The Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency of Liberia (EPA) Professor Wilson K. Tarpeh says the EPA has worked along with the concession firm, Bea Mountain to correct all missteps the company made during its recent importation.
“The importers that [brought] the 4,000 metric tons of Ammonium Nitrate explosives received a license from the lands and mines and energy and other securities institutions, but the law of EPA requires them to obtain a license due to the impact said importation has on the environment”, Professor Tarpeh said Wednesday, 16 December in a news conference in Monrovia.
He said part of the EPA law requires such importers to receive a license from the EPA, which was never done, and that was a misstep on the part of Bea Mountain. However, he said this has been corrected and the EPA is working along with the company to put in more safety measures.
Tarpeh, former Minister of Commerce, who now heads the EPA, said the news conference was called to dismiss insinuation that the 4,000 metric tons of Ammonium Nitrate imported by KAPEKS Liberia, Ltd chemical is dangerous and has been banned.
“Lets us state for the record that the importation of Ammonium Nitrate has been ongoing since major mining companies like Arcelor Mittal Liberia, and BHP Billiton began their operations in Liberia, and prior to the inception of this government.”
The EPA executive director however narrated that all of the major mining companies operating in Liberia have been using the chemical for controlled blasting for the past 10 years, contrary to reports that its usage is new in the mining sector of Liberia.
“We wish to unequivocally state that risk associated with the storage, production, distribution and use of pure ammonium nitrate is low and when handled correctly, there would be no uncontrolled explosion because the product itself is not combustible.”
Prof. Tarpeh said it is important that the EPA dismisses insinuations that the chemical is dangerous and has been banned, adding that Ammonium Nitrate is derived from the reaction between ammonia and nitric acid.
Ammonium Nitrate consumption is broken down as 78 percent for fertilizer applications and 22 percent for explosives. It is the main component of explosive used in mining activities all over the world and hasn’t been banned as reported. It is also used as main oxidizing salt in explosives manufacturing worldwide.
The EPA said it is currently focusing on prevention of main hazards for Ammonium Nitrate usage that are external fires and mixing with incompatible materials, resulted in uncontrolled reaction.
Tarpeh added that team of technicians have visited and conducted a full scale environmental monitoring of the facility and initiated measures required for safe management and transportation of the chemicals to Bea Mountain and MNG Gold in Grand Cape Mount and Bong Counties respectively, adding that the goal is to ensure the chemicals are adequately managed at the temporary holding facility and public safety is duly assured.
He said the EPA assures the public it has scientists who have undergone several training courses on regulatory enforcement and management of hazardous chemicals under the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
“The Agency has the requisite capacity and expertise to enforce regulatory requirements over the handling of those hazardous chemicals accepted for importation under international Conventions to which Liberia is a Party, and it has also put in place measures to ensure that Bea Mountain utilize the chemical in an environmentally safe and sustainable manner.”
In late August, KAPEKS imported the chemical into Liberia, just weeks following the explosion in Beirut, Lebanon which was caused by 2,750 metric tons of improperly stored Ammonium Nitrate. The incident in Beirut resulted to death of more than 220 persons.
By Lewis S. Teh–Editing by Jonathan Browne