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Increased enforcement planned for ammonium nitrate

While Minnesota is not at the top of the list for states that have ammonium nitrate located in chemical storage facilities, it was recently reported that the federal list is largely incomplete. Only about one-third of the facilities are known to Homeland Security, with 47 states reporting 1,345 facilities, which may create issues with both environmental and worker protection. It has been found that 120 of these locations in 28 states are near hospitals, schools and residential areas.

Following the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion that killed 14 people in April 2013, President Obama promised more enforcement of federal regulations. However, the Government Accountability Office found that federal regulations regarding ammonium nitrate storage are largely outdated and not shared with states. For example, based on regulations that were put in place in the 1970s, ammonium nitrate is not classed as a hazardous material by the Environmental Protection Agency.

France, Britain, Canada and Germany, which all frequently ban the presence of combustible materials in ammonium nitrate storage facilities, have safety standards that are far ahead of those of the United States, according to the GAO. Some American companies have also been exempt from safety inspections, such as those with 10 or fewer employees. While a potential budget increase would allow for these facilities to also be inspected, OSHA also plans on targeting facilities that it deems to be high risk despite financial limitations.

Workers' compensation death benefits have little meaning to the families of those who are killed at work, especially if the deaths were caused by unsafe workplaces. At these times, the families might consider declining death benefits and instead pursue legal action. If a death was a mere accident and not caused by an unsafe workplace, death benefits could include funeral expenses and a portion of the wages that the worker would otherwise have provided to his or her family.

Source: PBS, "Federal investigation reveals little oversight of U.S. chemical plants", Hope Yen, May 21, 2014

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