Ammonium nitrate added to emergency regulations list

Facilities that handle bulk quantities of ammonium nitrate fertilizer but don’t yet have an environmental emergency plan will now have to come up with one.

The product, in bulk form, is one of 41 substances that were added Wednesday to the federal Environmental Emergency Regulations, which call for development of what’s dubbed an "E2" plan.

E2 plans require that people and/or facilities using or storing designated substances "have plans for and can manage the consequences of an unintended release of the substance into the environment."

For ammonium nitrate, the E2 hazard threshold was triggered by the chemical’s "reactivity" — a gentle way of saying the product is known also for its use in improvised explosives.

The minimum threshold requiring an E2 plan is 20 tonnes, but the new rule includes an exemption for bagged ammonium nitrate sold in its usual 20-kg container.

"These amendments to the Environmental Emergency Regulations will further protect Canadians where it matters most: at work, in their homes and in their communities," Environment Minister Peter Kent said in a release Wednesday.

The Environmental Emergency Regulations came into force late in 2003, the same year in which Environment Canada pledged to evaluate 49 not-yet-listed substances for "their potential to create environmental emergencies."

Ammonium nitrate, along with styrene and acetic acid, were at that time added to the list of products to be evaluated at the request of industry stakeholders.

Of the 52 evaluated, 41 have now been "found to have the potential to create environmental emergencies due to their significant risk to the environment and human life in the case of accidents, vandalism or terrorist acts."

Among the most infamous fertilizer-bomb attacks was the destruction of a U.S. federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Domestic attackers in that case detonated a combination of ammonium nitrate and motor fuel, killing over 150 people.

Federal regulations already require sellers of ammonium nitrate to register with the explosives regulatory division of Natural Resources Canada, ask for proper ID from customers, provide annual inventory reports and report any suspicious activity to "appropriate authorities." The product’s resale is also prohibited.

Related stories:

Ont. case spurs fertilizer firms’ call for security audit, June 15, 2010

B.C. fertilizer lost only on paper: RCMP audit, Feb. 11, 2010

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