Last week, the Chairman of the US Chemical Safety and Hazardous Investigation Board (CSB) released a statement reflecting that the massive chemical explosion in Beirut, Lebanon on August 4 may have similar characteristics to the West Fertilizer Plant Explosion of 2013.
Although the explosion is still under investigation, news sources report that the incident in Lebanon’s capitol city may have been caused by prolonged storage of ammonium nitrate without the proper safety measures. This industrial chemical is commonly used as a fertilizer and is the main component of many types of mining explosives.
2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate were allegedly stored in a shipping container at Beirut’s cargo port for over six years when it erupted in smoke and flame last week, leaving at least 154 dead and thousands more injured.
Video Credit: CBC News: The National
CSB’s Call to Action
CSB Chairman Katherine Lemos points to several similarities between this incident and the equally devastating West Fertilizer Plant Explosion. On April 17, 2013, a fire and explosion in West, Texas killed 15 people, injured more than 260 others, and caused widespread community damage. After a thorough investigation, CSB determined the incident was caused by inadequate storage and handling of ammonium nitrate.
Since 2013, Federal agencies have made changes to the way companies can handle, store, and ship the potentially hazardous chemical. These regulatory changes include increased inspections by OSHA and new guidance on emergency planning issued from EPA.
In her statement, the chairman says incidents such as those in West, Texas and Beirut are preventable and argues for even more regulatory changes to keep employees, cargo, and our communities safe.
Read the full statement here.