US sends special explosives investigators to Texas blast site

18 April 2013 19:23  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) on Thursday dispatched one of its national response teams to West, Texas, to help investigate the cause of the fertilizer plant explosion there.

A spokeswoman for ATF said the team of experts was requested by local authorities in West.

Spokeswoman Donna Sellers said the dispatch of the ATF investigative team does not imply that the bureau in any way suspects criminal involvement in the fire and explosion that killed at least five people and injured dozens more on Wednesday evening.

Part of the US Department of Justice (DOJ), the ATF typically investigates illegal use and trafficking of firearms, the illegal use and storage of explosives, acts of arson and bombings, acts of terrorism and the illegal diversion of alcohol and tobacco products.

“It is not uncommon for ATF to send a national response team,” Sellers said, “especially in situations when there is extensive damage or loss of life, and often when a situation involves a small town where local authorities don’t have the resources that ATF can provide.”

She said that in addition to the national response team that is en route to West, ATF already has some personnel at the blast site. Those ATF personnel arrived from the bureau’s field office in Houston.

Sellers could not say how many AFT personnel would be in the response team, but those teams typically include veteran ATF agents, explosives enforcement officers, fire protection and electrical engineers and forensic chemists, according to the bureau.

In addition to the ATF response team, the White House said earlier on Thursday that President Barack Obama has directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to render assistance in West.

White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said that Obama was briefed about the West, Texas, fire and explosion early on Thursday morning.

Earnest said that Obama was briefed on the disaster by his homeland security advisor, Lisa Monaco.

Earnest also said that Obama “will be regularly briefed on this situation [West], as he has been on the others that have been going on in the last couple of days”.

The White House spokesman was referring to the terrorist bombing in Boston, Massachusetts, on Monday that killed three people and injured 180 others as the Boston Marathon race was drawing to a close.

US security and intelligence officials also were responding on Thursday to the sending of letters containing allegedly toxic powders to the White House and to at least two members of Congress. An arrest has been made in that case.

Because of the Boston bombings and the apparently unrelated toxic letter attack, the fire and explosion in West has generated more federal attention than otherwise might be the case.

In addition to ATF and FEMA, the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has sent a large investigation team to West. The CSB was chartered by Congress to investigate industrial chemical accidents.

By: Joe Kamalick
+1 713 525 2653

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