Last week, on the one-year anniversary of the West Fertilizer plant explosion, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board released its first report on the incident. Not surprisingly, the report said that all parties involved – from the plant’s owners to government and local regulators – shared in the blame.
“[The explosion] resulted from the failure of a company to take the necessary steps to avert a preventable fire and explosion and from the inability of federal, state and local regulatory agencies to identify a serious hazard and correct it,” said U.S. Chemical Safety Board Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso in a statement regarding the report. “McLennan County didn’t have an emergency response plan in place and the community clearly was not aware of the potential hazard at West Fertilizer.”
The report repeatedly cited a lack of fire codes as part of the problem. As noted in the document, Texas doesn’t have a fire code and small counties are prohibited from having them. “But local fire departments need fire codes to hold industrial operators accountable for safe storage and handling of chemicals,” said Moure-Eraso.
According to the report, there are more than 1,300 facilities across the U.S. that store ammonium nitrate. It lauded associations such as The Fertilizer Institute for its establishing guidelines for the storage and transportation of ammonium nitrate, but called on all states and counties to likewise update their guidelines.
“The state of Texas, McLennan County, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and EPA have work to do because this hazard exists in hundreds of locations across the U.S.,” said Moure-Eraso. “However, it is important to note that there is no substitute for an efficient regulatory system that ensures that all companies are operating to the same high standards. We cannot depend on voluntary compliance.”
This undoubtedly is the first of many such reports on West Fertilizer that will appear in the coming months. How we respond as an industry to these calls for change will be very important.
Stay tuned . . .