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Chemical | Federal agencies | Review committees | Manufacturing

West, TX, fertilizer plant explosion preventable, experts say

June 28, 2013

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Washington – Deadly chemical explosions such as the April 17 blast at a fertilizer plant in West, TX, can be prevented by robust federal enforcement, updated risk management plans and compliance with current standards, safety experts testified during a June 27 hearing before a Senate committee.

Witnesses told members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that the Environmental Protection Agency’s Risk Management Plan rule should include reactive chemicals such as ammonia nitrate. The combustible compound, used as a fertilizer, was responsible for the explosion in West, TX, that killed 14 people and injured 200.

In 2002, the Chemical Safety Board recommended EPA and OSHA expand their standards to include reactive chemicals – something neither agency has done, CSB Chair Rafael Moure-Eraso testified.

When questioned about EPA’s decision not to include reactive chemicals in its RMP, Barry Breen – deputy assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response – said his agency’s interpretation of CSB’s recommendation is that EPA must address reactive hazards, as opposed to listing individual chemicals.

Another witness, Texas A&M professor M. Sam Mannan, said better federal enforcement of current regulations was needed, and suggested that if OSHA regulations had been followed, the probability of the explosion in West, TX, would have been “almost none.”