Athens Review, Athens, Texas

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July 3, 2014

Abbott defends ruling limiting information about ammonium nitrate

Athens — Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is defending a ruling he made that allows the state to withhold the exact location of facilities storing potentially-dangerous chemicals like ammonium nitrate. The compound caused the massive and deadly fireball at West Fertilizer Company in April 2013.

Addressing reporters, Abbott said official confidentiality can help stop potential terrorists. But he also called the ruling a “win-win”  since  "every single person in the state” can learn about “chemicals stored in any plant.”

Abbott said citizens are free to drive around, and ask each facility whether they have the chemicals on hand.

The announcement of the new ruling has drawn the attention of one Athens citizen who has been concerned about the ammonium nitrate stored in the city.

Charles Spann told the Athens City Council the city should let the citizens know which locations are free of the compound, especially those that have previously stored it.

“This is not trying to get information on where it is stored, but on where it is not stored,” Spann said.

Abbott's ruling said the Department of State Health Services can keep locations of facilities with possibly dangerous chemicals secret. Previously, Texans wanting to know about companies keeping such chemicals could find out from the department.

In November 2013, the Texas Fire Marshal’s Office introduced a searchable website to allow Texans to check for nearby facilities that store large amounts of ammonium nitrate. At that time, there were some listed in Henderson County.

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. 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. Since that time, according to Henderson County officials, the El Dorado facility has stopped dealing ammonium nitrate-based fertilizer.

Abbott’s opponent for governor, Wendy Davis, doesn’t agree with his ruling.  An Associated Press story quotes Davis spokesman Zac Petkanas as saying, “The only thing more outrageous than Greg Abbott keeping the location of chemical facilities secret is telling Texas parents they literally need to go door-to-door in order to find out if their child’s school is in the blast radius of dangerous explosives.”


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