Texas panel to review West explosion for possible regulatory changes

31 January 2014 21:54 Source:ICIS News

HOUSTON (ICIS)--Texas House Speaker Joe Straus on Friday instructed the state’s Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee to review the West Fertilizer explosion to determine if regulations need to be change and if there is adequate emergency planning for future incidents.

A massive blast killed 15, injured approximately 200 and caused more than $100m in damages on 17 April 2013 when ammonium nitrate stored at the West Fertilizer distribution facility caught fire and erupted. It destroyed 150 buildings and 77 homes as well as severely damaged three local schools in the small farming community in central Texas.

The panel will investigate the explosion with emphasis on state laws and regulations that could be changed to improve public safety and avoiding further deadly accidents involving facilities that produce or distribute volatile chemicals.

The group will focus on enhance these requirements especially in rural areas as these regions are often dealing with less resources and dependent on volunteer firefighters and first responders.

Straus said in his directive that the panel should look for “deficiencies in safety, risk management, and disaster planning by chemical facilities and state entities”.

He said in the end he expects them to review the whole range of issues including current enforcement policies and methods of inspection and come forth with viable recommendations on how to reduce the possibilities for damage, injury or death.

Previously officials with the Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee have suggested the possibility of creating a state agency that would become responsibility for regulating and inspecting facilities such as West Fertilizer

At this time the West Fertilizer investigations have yet to determine a single cause of the blast or ruled out the possibility of criminal action.

Among of the ongoing investigations is one by US Chemical Safety Board (CSB), who said in November 2013 that its investigation is expected to be finalised by spring 2014.

The CSB is primarily focused on the causalities of the massive blast, zoning regulations, the role ammonium nitrate played in the eruption as well as the absence of regulatory oversight.

Other factors being reviewed is the location of the distribution facility and inappropriate construction materials, specifically those used for the storage of the fertilizer product.

When the agency’s report is finalised, it will be presented at a public meeting.  

One of expected advisories from CSB would request that Texas establish enforceable fire codes for facilities that are located within areas that contain less than 250,000 residents. Currently the state does not have a system for communities with populations below that threshold.

By Mark Milam