As Senator Barbara Boxer of California readies her line of questioning for officials regarding the West, Texas, fertilizer complex explosion, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claims the ammonium nitrate stored at the complex was in its inert, dry form, rather than the volatile liquid form sometimes used by bomb makers.
The April 17 blast registered 2.1 on the Richter scale and destroyed much of the rural Texas community, including a school and several residences and businesses. Fifteen people lost their lives as a result, most of them first responders. Early reports surfaced the complex had been storing ammonium nitrate without regulatory approval, and a laundry list of accusations ensued, culminating with an appeal from Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, for a closer look.
But EPA maintains dry ammonium nitrate is not considered explosive as it requires either extreme heat or an outside source of ignition to explode. That fact has kept dry ammonium nitrate off of the EPA's extreme hazard list.
According to CBS News in Dallas, a letter to Boxer from an assistant administrator at the EPA said, “Ammonium nitrate fertilizer does not meet (extreme hazard) criteria as it is not intended to function as an explosive and would not have been regulated.”
“I honestly haven’t sat down to analyze every single thing the EPA and chemical board said. That’s my weekend reading,” Boxer told The Dallas Morning News. “This is going to be a time for all of us to find out why they think this happened, the experts who went out there and were actually in the field … and what things could be corrected.”
The cause of the tragedy is still under investigation and a hearing with Boxer and the Environment and Public Works Committee is scheduled for June 27. But EPA has expressed that, while acknowledging ammonium nitrate's explosive potential, it does not believe the dry ammonium nitrate was the initial source of the blast, nor does it believe the substance bears further regulation.
When asked if the chemical should be considered an extreme hazard, Ron Curry, the director of EPA’s regional office in Dallas, told CBS News in Dallas, “To make a general statement like that, at this point, I’m not going to do that.”
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