Athens Review, Athens, Texas

November 7, 2013

Website available to search for ammonium nitrate facilities

Rich Flowers
The Athens Review

Athens — The Texas Fire Marshal’s Office now offers a searchable website to allow Texans to check for nearby facilities that store large amounts of ammonium nitrate.

Since the chemical provided the fuel for an explosion in West that killed 15 people, State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy and his staff have been studying and alerting the public of the potential dangers of stored ammonium nitrate. The new tool lets users search by Zip Code to find storage facilities with more than five tons of the chemical commonly used as a fertilizer and industrial explosive.

In Athens, the West explosion drew attention to two businesses within the 75751 area that sell products containing ammonium nitrate. Tons of the substance were transported each week to and from storage at the Ag Services location on Larkin Street in Athens and El Dorado Chemicals on Farm-to-Market Road 753, just outside the city limits.

The Larkin Street location is a block from the courthouse square, while the site on FM 753 is near State Highway 19 south across the street from Athens Middle School. 

A third Henderson County location is in the 45770 Zip Code, in the community of New York. The store serves as an outlet for tons of fertilizer used in eastern Henderson County.

Athens Fire Department Chief John McQueary said anyone who types in a Zip Code, and learns they have a vendor dealing in ammonium nitrate nearby, will have the opportunity to contact local officials to find out what they’re doing to insure safety at the location.

In addition, citizens have the option of moving from the location, if they believe the business presents a safety issue.

McQueary said the Henderson County Local Emergency Planning Committee, made up of more than 30 community officials, has begun studying Tier II chemical reports from local businesses. The reports are notifications to the state from facilities that have certain extremely hazardous chemicals in specified amounts.

“Every year, we will send out a report from the LAPC, telling the deficiencies that we found, what we are doing to correct those deficiencies and to make sure that the public knows that we have an eye on the facilities to make sure they are doing their due diligence, according to state regulations.”

McQueary said the Texas Legislature is likely to write new regulations concerning ammonium nitrate when it meets in 2015, but that’s almost two years away.

“What we can do now is make sure they’re compliant with state and city regulations,” McQueary said.

Both Ag Power and El Dorado are compliant with existing laws, McQueary said.

“What their deficiencies were, what they were lacking has been corrected at this time,” McQueary said.