Got Anhydrous Ammonia? Chlorine? Yeah, You Probably Do

May 8, 2013

The fertilizer explosion that killed at least 15 in West, Texas, April 17, 2013, points to many unwritten stories about environmental hazards in local communities.

Had the Texas community better understood the threats, firefighters' lives might have been saved, a nursing home might have been evacuated sooner, and a school might have been sited farther from the blast.

Explosions from ammonium nitrate fertilizer are actually only one of many various hazards posed to communities from hazardous materials under the purview of EPA and other agencies. Toxic inhalation hazards — like chlorine, anhydrous ammonia, and hydrofluoric acid, for example — could kill tens of thousands of people if released in crowded areas.

Environmental reporters have several data tools to help them find local facilities that handle toxic, explosive, flammable, corrosive, and otherwise hazardous materials. The last issue of the WatchDog highlighted the Risk Management Plan database kept by RTK Net.

Another tool for tracking and mapping such hazards is the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), one of the oldest and largest databases for hazmats. It is online and searchable on the EPA web system.  TRI covers more than 650 reportable chemicals at some 20,000 US industrial facilities.