While investigations continue into the who, what, where, when and how the fertilizer plant in West, TX, exploded last April, agencies remain steadfast in calling for as much chemical plant safety as possible.
“Increased coordination, communication, and data collection amongst federal, state, tribal, and local agencies should result in action and assist community members and emergency responders in helping to prevent and respond to chemical incidents,” said Chemical Safety Board (CSB) Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso during the late summer in response to the Executiver Order issued by President Obama calling for a review of chemical company safety.
The massive ammonium nitrate explosion killed at least 14 people and devastated the town of West, Texas, on April 17. Reactive chemicals, like ammonium nitrate, can undergo potentially hazardous chemical reactions, such as violently detonating, if not managed properly.
“Incidents the CSB has been investigating, such as the tragic explosion and fire in West, TX, have revealed serious gaps in the prevention of accidents and in response preparations for major chemical releases by companies and government authorities, leaving Americans vulnerable,” he said.
“The West accident showed a particularly glaring need for comprehensive regulation of reactive chemical hazards and in particular ammonium nitrate. The destruction I personally saw there – the obliteration of homes, schools, and businesses by an ammonium nitrate explosion – was almost beyond imagination. The loss of life was horrible.
The destruction and the lack of regulation led President Obama ordered federal agencies to review safety rules at chemical facilities nationwide.
“Chemicals, and the facilities where they are manufactured, stored, distributed, and used, are essential to today’s economy,” Obama wrote in an executive order. “Past and recent tragedies have reminded us, however, that the handling and storage of chemicals are not without risk.”
The executive order also calls for better coordination among federal, state and local agencies in the regulation of chemical plants.
“The federal government has developed and implemented numerous programs aimed at reducing the safety risks and security risks associated with hazardous chemicals,” Obama said.
“However, additional measures can be taken by executive departments and agencies with regulatory authority to further improve chemical facility safety and security in coordination with owners and operators.”
“I am encouraged that the Executive Order calls for the revision and strengthening of EPA’s Risk Management Program and OSHA’s Process Safety Management standard,” Moure-Eraso said.
Click here to view the CSB video on the West explosion.