Senator to agencies: respond to CSB claims in West investigation

23 May 2013 22:35  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--A senator has asked on Thursday that two agencies respond to allegations that they are hindering the investigation of the West Fertilizer blast by the Chemical Safety Board (CSB).

Earlier, the CSB alleged that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO) did not allow proper access to the site and to related witnesses in the lethal blast at the fertilizer distribution facility in West, Texas.

CSB chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso sent a letter raising the issue this week to Senator Barbara Boxer, who in late April announced she intended to hold a hearing on the West Fertilizer explosion and determine what gaps exist in the enforcement of chemical regulations and safety laws.

“Senator Boxer has asked the agencies to respond to her regarding the issues raised in the letter as quickly as possible,” said a spokesperson for the Environmental and Public Works Committee, of which Boxer is the chairwoman.

The CSB told Boxer that the lack of cooperation from the two other agencies has left it unable to determine the cause of the massive blast. It also cited that during the investigation conducted by the federal and state officials, heavy equipment used to uncover evidence did damage to materials that could have potentially allowed the CSB to find the cause of the fire and subsequent explosion.

In the 17 May letter, Moure-Eraso wrote that the “incident site was massively and irreversibly altered under the direction of ATF personnel, who used cranes, bulldozers and other excavation apparatus in an ultimately unsuccessful quest to find a single ignition source for the original fire”.

Moure-Eraso further stated that all indications were that the eruption at West Fertilizer was an industrial accident rather than caused by arson. He has asked the senator for help accessing additional evidence including debris from the site, as well as safety and chemical stockpile records of the company.

Last week, ATF and SFMO announced that the incident was still under investigation as the cause of the West Fertilizer explosion had not been determined despite ruling out several possible causes. The report from the CSB is expected in the next 12-18 months.

Officials with the SFMO responded to the allegation by asserting that the work has been within the scope of a criminal investigation and that no actions were taken, which would have compromised the investigative review by the CBS, despite receiving full cooperation by the agency.

The investigation continues to date under the authority of an evidentiary search warrant issued by the 19th District Court of Texas,” said the SFMO in a statement. “The multiple agencies involved in the investigation all agreed upon a single protocol prior to the beginning of the investigation. All agencies, except CSB, operated within the protocol. Nevertheless, the SFMO and ATF attempted to fully cooperate with CSB.”

“During the investigation CSB was provided access to the scene, and CSB personnel worked with SFMO and ATF during excavation operations and neighbourhood documentation activities. CSB also collected their own chemical samples, with the assistance of an ATF chemist and evidence technician. No evidence was destroyed or compromised.”

By: Mark Milam
+1 713 525 2653

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