Government shutdown halts CSB investigation on West explosion

09 October 2013 23:17  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--The current government shutdown has brought the US Chemical Safety Board's (CSB) investigation into the April fatal explosion at West Fertilizers to a stop, agency officials said on Wednesday.

The CSB is charged with investigating chemical accidents and has been trying to determine the cause of the massive eruption at the retail fertilizer distributor since the accident occurred on 17 April.

Yet CSB chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso said the agency has been forced to temporarily halt any progress on the investigation as the agency has furloughed 37 of its 41 employees due to the mandated federal shutdown.

Of those temporarily out of work, 10 are members of the team looking into the ammonium nitrate fuel explosion, which resulted in 15 deaths, injured 200 and caused an estimated $100m in property damages.

At this time, the CSB has determined that ammonium nitrate is present at other plants around the country, including retail facilities, which are in close proximity to significant areas of population and could possible expose the public to hazards similar to those experienced in West in the event of a fire or explosion.

Moure-Eraso said the agency had a meeting set for 24 October in West for its investigative team and residents of the small Texas community to meet and discuss the accident and the ongoing effort to determine a cause but that is likely not going to happen as scheduled. The furlough also puts into jeopardy that goal of having a final report completed by spring 2014.

Beyond the situation with West Fertilizers, the CSB chairman said the government closure has halted more than a dozen other chemical investigations and leaves the agency unable to respond if there was to be another major incident in the US.

“If a major chemical accident were to happen in an American community tomorrow, we have no ability to respond. And I think that is true of much of the government,” said Moure-Eraso.

Chairperson of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Senator Barbara Boxer, who held a Senate hearing on the West fertilizer explosion in June, said the impact of the government shutdown is clearly putting the public at risk. Boxer has been a very vocal supporter of the renewed efforts to examine and tighten the rules and regulations regarding the storage and handling of dangerous and potentially volatile chemicals.

“The longer the shutdown continues, the greater the damage will be. There is a simple solution, we need to end the shutdown and open the government now,” said Boxer.

By: Mark Milam
+1 713 525 2653

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