NFPA updates hazardous materials code, addressing issues in West, Texas chemical storage tragedy

Blog Post created by ryan.quinn Employee on Apr 14, 2015


For the second time in three years, NFPA used its consensus standards development system to address an urgent need for safeguarding industrial hazards.   

On April 17, 2013, an ammonium nitrate storage facility in the small town of West, Texas, caught fire and exploded with devastating force. The blast destroyed most of the West Fertilizer Company facility and damaged or leveled nearly every structure within a 1,500-foot radius, including homes, schools, and a nursing home. Fifteen people were killed, including 10 members of the town’s volunteer fire department, and about 200 were injured. Damage estimates approached $250 million. 

Soon after the West disaster, NFPA’s Technical Committee on Hazardous Chemicals, responsible for NFPA 400, Hazardous Materials Code, collaborated with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board and other safety organizations to examine requirements for new and existing facilities that handle or store ammonium nitrate, or AN.  In just two years, the NFPA has completed work on a new edition of NFPA 400 that will strengthen the requirements for ammonium nitrate and will help prevent similar incidents.

AN is used as a fertilizer with a wide range of applications. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that there are 13,000 facilities similar to West Fertilizer Company in the US.

NFPA’s standards development process provided the forum where diverse stakeholders from the technical committee, federal agencies such as the Chemical Safety Board, the fertilizer industry, enforcing officials including state fire marshals,  and emergency responders worked together to develop changes to the AN requirements in NFPA 400. 

NFPA’s Hazardous Chemicals technical committee, based on work developed by a task group of the Committee, approved a number of important changes to the AN requirements in the 2016 edition of NFPA 400 to further protect workers, emergency responders, the public and facilities from the hazards of AN in the event of a fire.  This new edition of NFPA 400 will also aid OSHA and EPA as they examine federal regulations governing AN storage and handling as part of President Obama’s Executive Order focus on chemical facility safety and security.

The 2016 edition of NFPA 400 is scheduled to be issued on May 26, 2015.  The specific AN requirement changes and the issues behind them will be featured in the May/June issue of NFPA Journal. So be on the lookout for the next issue.

In addition, NFPA’s Conference & Expo in Chicago will include an education session on the important issues discussed by the technical committee and the rationale behind the changes. The session (T33) is scheduled for June 23 at 11:00am.

NFPA’s standards development process also addressed safeguarding industrial hazards following the deadly gas explosion at the Kleen Energy power plant in Middletown, Connecticut in 2010. NFPA moved quickly to develop its first provisional standard, NFPA 56 (PS), Fire and Explosion Prevention During Cleaning and Purging of Flammable Gas Piping Systems, issued in 2011.

The NFPA Hazardous Chemicals technical committee is expected to resume work on future editions of NFPA 400, including continued review of AN provisions based on further information from the pending investigations and future research on classification of AN formulations. You can monitor the work on what will become the 2019 edition of NFPA 400 by setting up alerts at www.nfpa.org/400.