It was only a matter of time, but the investigations and resulting reports into the West Fertilizer chemical plant blast in April are beginning to filter out.
In one, the plant ended up getting citations for 24 “serious safety violations,” stemming from the fire and explosion, according to officials at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Fifteen people died and more than 200 suffered injuries from the incident. Proposed penalties total $118,300.
Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California who chairs the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee that oversees environmental policy, released the news last week before the end up the government shutdown.
OSHA cited the West facility for exposing workers to dangerously stored ammonium nitrate, as well as the danger of chemical burns and inhalation hazards from anhydrous ammonia.
Specific safety violations by the plant include unsafe handling and storage of ammonium nitrate and ammonia, missing data plate and labelling of ammonia storage tanks, failure to pressure test replacement hoses and a number of other failures. OSHA also found West did not have either an emergency response plan or a respiratory protection program.
In July, the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) found the West blast was the result of ammonium nitrate, which represents about 2 percent of the total applied nitrogen fertilizer applied in the U.S. The compound is a strong oxidizer that reacts energetically with organic materials, and can detonate when heated.
“This was an accident waiting to happen,” Boxer said, adding OSHA hadn’t inspected the West facility since 1985.
Various agencies have ongoing investigations of the West accident and they may propose their own penalties, Boxer said. She suggested there needs to be strong fines against chemical companies for similar lapses.
An executive order issued by President Obama in August, in the wake of the West explosion, directed agencies to review industrial chemical safety regulations and improve coordination. But the shutdown stalled the directive.