Friday, August 02, 2013

In response to explosion at fertilizer plant, Obama orders review of all chemical facilities

"Less than four months after a fertilizer plant explosion leveled the town of West, Tex., President Obama ordered federal agencies Thursday to review safety rules at chemical facilities nationwide," David Jackson reports for USA Today. In an executive order, Obama wrote: "Chemicals, and the facilities where they are manufactured, stored, distributed, and used, are essential to today's economy. Past and recent tragedies have reminded us, however, that the handling and storage of chemicals are not without risk." (Texas Tribune photo by David Bowser: Amarillo facility, near residences, houses ammonium nitrate)

The explosion in West, where 2,400 tons of potentially explosive ammonium nitrate was being stored, killed 15 people, injured more than 200, damaged or destroyed at least 150 buildings, and caused $100 million in property damage. At least 800,000 people live within one mile of sites that store similar chemicals, and many small towns and cities, especially in the south and southwest, have large stockpiles of ammonium nitrate.

"The executive order also calls for better coordination among federal, state and local agencies in the regulation of chemical plants," Jackson reports. Obama wrote: "The federal government has developed and implemented numerous programs aimed at reducing the safety risks and security risks associated with hazardous chemicals. However, additional measures can be taken by executive departments and agencies with regulatory authority to further improve chemical facility safety and security in coordination with owners and operators."

Sen. Barbara Boxer, (D-Calif.), who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement: "As I told the president, the EPA has not updated its alert since 1997, and the best practices recommended by other federal agencies such as OSHA are not being uniformly followed. This progress shows that when we use our mandated oversight role to solve serious problems facing the American people -- and the President agrees with our solutions -- we can move forward without changing laws to protect our families and communities." (Read more)

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