Fertilizer: Canadian AN Storage Regulations Trump U.S. – DTN

    Nowhere in Canada’s recorded history is there a single agriculture ammonium nitrate-related explosion similar to what happened in West, Texas, in April 2013. One reason for that may be that long before the West tragedy, Canada has had in place safeguards to prevent catastrophic events connected to AN stored at fertilizer retailers.

    The West incident, however, has further steeled Canada’s resolve to ensure AN is stored safely and securely, Canadian officials and fertilizer retailers say.

    One branch manager with an Ontario-based fertilizer retailer told DTN the West, Texas, incident raised further awareness of what could happen in Canada.

    Don Lunn, branch manager at Wanstead Farmers Co-op in Alvinston, Ontario, said his company quit selling AN years ago due to lack of demand. AN in Canada is primarily sold and used in the eastern part of the country.

    “The incident did bring awareness to our program in Canada,” Lunn said. “I can’t speak for the industry, but I have learned that the status quo is not good enough. Just because it hasn’t happened doesn’t mean it won’t, and the industry needs to work with regulatory agencies to develop standards that meet the needs of society and the industry to protect the environment and personnel in the communities that they exist.”

    Two non-ag-related incidents in the past decade have led to the Canadian industry further tightening AN practices.

    Law enforcement thwarted a possible terrorist attack in 2006 when 18 people were arrested in Toronto for plotting to use some three tons of AN to set off an explosion. In 2010 there was another possible scare in Ontario.

    Much like the West Fertilizer Co. location, Lunn said his co-op is situated on the edge of the small town of Alvinston. He said the co-op has open lines of communication with the community in case of emergencies involving other chemicals.

    A U.S. Chemical Safety Board investigation revealed last month that there was no emergency plan in place in West, Texas.

    Giulia Brutesco, director of scientific and regulatory affairs at the Canadian Fertilizer Institute, said the West incident raised eyebrows.

    “A thorough review of the existing code was conducted and additional details were added to provide increased clarity to its safety requirements,” Brutesco said. “The safety and security of Canadians is a priority to us, and we want our products to be handled and used safely and securely in communities across the country.”

    According to the Canadian Association of Agri-Retailers, AN makes up about 1.7% of the fertilizer used in Canada, or about 70,000 metric tons annually. The country produces very little AN.

    Retailers in Canada must report AN stockpile volumes, although the information is not publicly available. Many states in the United States provide the data upon request.

    Brutesco said Canada’s updated AN code of practice will take full effect at the end of 2015. During the two-year implementation phase, all facilities must successfully complete an audit on AN safety.

    Everyone involved in the handling of agricultural AN will be subject to code requirements and third-party audits to ensure compliance, she said.


    A U.S. Chemical Safety Board investigation found that many of the more than 1,300 AN stockpiles across the U.S. are in small towns like West and not stored in non-combustible structures.

    The Canadian system may be the envy of the world when it comes to safeguarding AN.

    After the alleged terror plot was uncovered in 2006, the country deemed AN to be a restricted component in 2008. Now all AN sellers are required to register with the country’s Explosives Regulatory Division.

    Delaney Ross Burtnack, president and chief executive officer with the Canadian Association of Agri-Retailers, said federal regulations require non-combustible construction be used for storage facilities. Those facilities must be ventilated to help dissipate heat and gases produced by AN decomposition in a fire.

    Storage facilities also have strict requirements for signage and clearance from sensitive areas. Fire-suppression systems are also required.

    Industry code of practice requires secure bin gates, access points on buildings, key control systems and security lighting. Though not required, the code recommends the use of perimeter security. Facilities are prohibited from storing more than 200 metric tons of AN without special approval from federal regulators.

    In addition, such large stockpiles cannot be within 300 feet of schools, hospitals or other buildings with large groups of people. Such large AN stockpiles cannot be within 150 feet of homes.


    The U.S. Chemical Safety Board reported last month that the community of West and the county had no emergency plan in place.

    Burtnack said Canadian facilities storing more than 20 mt of AN must prepare environmental emergency plans that are federally regulated and updated annually. It was reported that 28 to 34 tons (25 to 30 mt) of AN ignited in West, Texas.

    “CAAR has a very high level of confidence regarding the safety and security of ammonium nitrate supplies in Canada,” he said.

    The Canadian Fertilizer Institute has developed and implemented safety and security training for agri-retailers and farmers. In addition, the CFI developed the “On Guard for Canada” program outlining best practices for both farmers and retailers to ensure safe and secure handling of AN.

    In 2011, Canada’s Fertilizer Safety and Security Council in partnership with Natural Resources Canada launched an online AN security training course for fertilizer retailers.

    Volunteer firefighters and first responders in the United States are largely untrained to handle AN emergencies.

    Texas state lawmakers have had discussions about possibly requiring AN retailers to carry a minimum amount of insurance coverage. West Fertilizer Co. had just $1 million in insurance in a disaster that inflicted more than $100 million in damage.

    Burtnack said Canada’s AN code of practice requires companies that sell or ship AN to have written proof of “valid insurance coverage” for all transportation firms used for transporting AN within the past two years.

    “The accident in West was a shocking tragedy, and all of Canada followed the story closely as details were revealed regarding this terrible event,” Burtnack said.

    “Following the news, our industry did review and clarify some of the details in the systems governing the safety and security of AN.”

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