Further Investigation Delayed by Government Shutdown
The partial government shutdown has delayed the federal investigation of the April 17 fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, and efforts to improve chemical safety, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California announced on Oct. 8.
Boxer also said the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has fined the company that owns the plant $118,300 for 24 workplace violations, including unsafely handling and storing two dangerous chemicals.
Boxer, a California Democrat who is chairwoman of the Senate’s environment and public works committee, told The Dallas Morning News that deadlines to review and overhaul regulations, safety practices, data-sharing and emergency response won’t be met.
The first deadline, for agencies to submit proposals for improvements, is Nov. 1.
President Obama issued an executive order on Aug. 1 that imposed a series of deadlines and multiple federal agencies had to submit preliminary proposals for improvements.
Boxer said that those will “definitely be delayed.”
The shutdown also is delaying the U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s final report on the April 17 blast at the West Fertilizer Co. that killed 15 and injured more than 300 others.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, a federal agency that investigates industrial accidents, has furloughed 37 of its 41 employees, chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said.
Among the furloughed are 10 who remain part of the West inquiry. Moure-Eraso said that as a result of the fuloughs, an Oct. 24 meeting between the safety board’s staff and West residents is in question. So, too, is the spring 2014 completion date for a final report on the explosion.
Work on more than a dozen other chemical accidents has also come to a halt.
Investigators previously said that ammonium nitrate was detonated in the explosion at the West fertilizer plant, but they don’t know how the blast was initiated. The origin of the fire that preceded the explosion was in the fertilizer and seed building, but the cause of the fire has not been determined.
The violations at the West fertilizer plant cited by OSHA include unsafe handling and storage of ammonium nitrate; misplaced labeling of tanks; failure to pressure test hoses; inadequate valves; lack of precautionary safety valves; failure to have emergency response plan; and lack of fire extinguishers. OSHA also cited the company with a number of violations for lack of safety plans.
Boxer said OSHA couldn’t publicize the fertilizer plant findings itself because of the federal government’s ongoing partial shutdown.
The West Fertilizer Co. is owned by Adair Grain Inc. The explosion caused an estimated $100 million in damage in the area surrounding the plant.