Friday, April 19, 2013

Blasted fertilizer plant's record shows 'patchwork' regulation, raises concern about others' safety

UPDATE, April 22: "There are signs that not all was right with the plant, like the fact that it had as much as 270 tons of ammonium nitrate (which can be explosive) at the site, but no sprinklers or fire barriers. It’s also brought up questions about regulation in Texas, and whether homes and schools should be so close to industry," Terrence Henry reports for State Impact.

UPDATE, April 20: "The explosion Wednesday night at the West Fertilizer Company in West, Texas, raises questions about the safety of fertilizer storage at a time when nitrogen fertilizer plants are being reopened or built new across the country . . . to take advantage of low natural-gas prices," writes Russ Quinn of DTN/The Progressive Farmer. However, gas prices are rising, and production costs are expected to go up by 2015, says the Energy Information Administration

Baylor University students hold a vigil for
victims of the explosion. (Waco Tribune photo)
West Fertilizer Co., where at least 12 people have been confirmed dead from an explosion, has repeatedy been fined or disciplined by state and federal agencies for safety violations, Eric Dexheimer, Asher Price and Jeremy Schwartz report for the Austin American-Statesman. The record "highlights the patchwork nature of the industry’s oversight, with regulatory authority passed around by a half-dozen state and federal agencies," they write.

The company was fined $10,000 last year by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for failing to write a security plan to transport anhydrous ammonia, a chemical fertilizer stored under pressure. They were also fined twice in 2006. One fine was $2,300 by the Environmental Protection Agency for not updating the company's risk management plan,"which includes an analysis of the potential consequences of a worst-case accident, as well as its emergency planning information," and again after the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality "discovered the company didn’t obtain a required air quality permit. The deficiency was revealed after the agency responded to an odor complaint."

Justice of the Peace David Pareya told the Waco Tribune that Thursday evening authorities began removing the bodies of what are expected to be 12 firefighters and at least two bodies of residents in the complex. "Rescuers haven’t yet been able to search the second floor of the complex, but expect to find two to three more bodies there," Pareya said. (Read more)

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