What is ammonium nitrate?

Nearly one month after the fatal explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, the demand for greater protections for chemical plant workers continues. On August 17, 2020, members of the House Committee on Education and Labor wrote the Secretary of Labor, directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to make changes to outdated ammonium nitrate standards. Following the West Fertilizer explosion in 2013, former President Barack Obama ordered OSHA to update chemical plant safety standards, including, in large part, the standards for ammonium nitrate. However, years later, no progress has been made.

Many may ask, “What exactly is ammonium nitrate?”Ammonium nitrate is a highly reactive chemical used primarily to produce fertilizer. For decades, the chemical has been blamed for causing explosions, including the deadliest industrial accident in United States History in 1947. Although the compound does not detonate alone, it can explode if it encounters an ignition source or is exposed to extreme heat.

When an explosion involving ammonium nitrate occurs, questions of chemical storage arise. If ammonium nitrate becomes contaminated or is not stored in dry and sanitary conditions, it can become explosive. Examination of the storage location will also be made. Is the chemical being stored in a populated area? Is it being kept in an area near fuel or other sources of heat? Chemical plants have a legal duty to handle compounds such as ammonium nitrate in a safe manner, which includes proper storage. When this duty is not maintained, the company can be held responsible for any resulting injuries and damages.

As stated in the Committee’s August letter:

In order to prevent any future tragedies like the explosions in West, Texas or Beirut, Lebanon, we call on you [the Secretary of Labor] to put the Process Safety Management Standard back on the active regulatory agenda and invest resources … in order to protect plant workers, emergency responders and the surrounding communities from the tragic consequences of ammonium nitrate explosions.

If you are injured by a chemical explosion or release, you need a lawyer that is experienced in handling lawsuits involving chemical plants. The lawyers of Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner have decades of experience fighting for the rights of people injured by hazardous chemicals, including those injured by the 2013 explosion in West, Texas. If you or someone you know has been injured as the result of a dangerous chemical explosion or release, contact us today by calling (713) 222-7211 or toll free at 713-222-7211.