Chemical safety regulations were put in place after an explosion in the city of West, Texas, involving more than 80,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate. But those regulations were rolled back by the EPA in November.
For some, Tuesday’s deadly explosion in Beirut, which officials say was caused by thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate, was a grim reminder of a 2013 disaster in the city of West, Texas.
In April of that year, a fertilizer plant exploded after more than 80,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate caught fire, killing 15 people, injuring more than 200 and causing significant damage to nearby buildings. The explosion was so powerful that it was recorded as a 2.1-magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale.
In response to that tragedy, the EPA under the Obama administration finalized a new Chemical Disaster Rule that was meant to prevent similar disasters from occurring by strengthening chemical safety and storage procedures. But that rule was largely rolled back in November 2019, amid outcry from environmentalists and some local governments.
Now, the explosion in Beirut is bringing renewed scrutiny to chemical safety regulations in the U.S.
“We’ve gone backwards instead of forward in terms of addressing some of the underlying risks that exist with the storage of this kind of material,” said Elena Craft, senior director of climate and health at the Environmental Defense Fund. “I think the bottom line is these incidents are preventable and we’re not doing enough to prevent them.”
Houston Public Media, 6 August 2020