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Destroyed Athens storage facility clean-up stalled

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ATHENS (KYTX) - There is a delay in cleaning up the debris after the fertilizer storage facility fire in Athens. Since the fire three weeks ago the remnants of ammonium nitrate and what's left of the building have been sitting protected behind a fence.

CBS 19's Katiera Winfrey explains what's holding things up  and if people have anything to fear.

Since the fire happened, nearby business owners say, the area is like a ghost town, and say business has suffered. Customers fear the area could still be dangerous. Those with the athens fire department say although the debris is still there, it's more of an eyesore than a threat.

East Texans watched in horror and feared for their safety last month -- as the East Texas Ag supply and the ammonium nitrate inside it went up in flames. 

Now, black plastic tarps cover most of what's left of the building and the flammable substance. Felipe Jauregui and his mom own a western clothes shop right across the street. Since the fire three weeks ago, business has been slow.

"Everybody is talking about it and our business is very terrible," Jauregui's mother Rosa Hernandez said.

The people fear the air is poisonous -- but fire officials say they shouldn't.

"We had that product tested by TCEQ and another agency came in and did air quality monitoring that particular night, went form the outer perimeters right up the product and found no toxicity levels."

Athens fire chief John McQuery has been following the clean up process -- since East Texas Ag supply hired allied waste to clean up the mess, but little has been done so far..

"The only thing the owner has done so far that has followed the plan is to cover the product up to keep it from being exposed to the weather and also blend the product down, the ammonium nitrate down below 28 percent."

The removal process is being stalled because the property the facility sits on belongs to Union Pacific.

"That's what we're waiting on is union pacific to give Allied Waste any particular plans of action that they want plus any classes they plan to attend," said McQuery.

He said crews can't just take hazardous material to the city dump. Dumping at specialized facilities for hazardous material has to be coordinated, and removal has to be safe for workers and people who live and work nearby...

"They have to track that and let everyone of that list and all agencies have to know where that product is going."

As for these business owners, they'll be happy when all of it is finally cleared.

"They have to clean it right now, because we need it, we need it."

Union pacific hasn't released an date on when the clean-up process will start. In the meantime, the city of athens is working to develop new regulations that would bar facilities from storing hazardous material in the city.

Coming up during the 2015 legislative session, US lawmakers are expected to discuss mandating  stringent requirements for storage facilities nationwide.

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