Exclusives
FacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle+RSS Feed
Fire EMSEMS TodayEMS Insider

Texas Fertilizer Plant Charged with Numerous Safety Violations

APWestRecover1-2

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Texas company that operated a fertilizer plant where a thunderous explosion in April killed 15 people is facing $118,300 in fines for two dozen serious safety violations, including a failure to have an emergency response plan, federal officials said Thursday.

JEMS: Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion Coverage


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said West Fertilizer Co. committed violations that included unsafe handling and storage of two fertilizers, anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate. The facility, which OSHA had not inspected since 1982, was also cited for inadequate labeling of storage tanks, failing to pressure test replacement hoses and not having respiratory protection or appropriate fire extinguishers.

The agency issued the citations Wednesday, but due to the government shutdown, they were not disclosed until Thursday, when Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., announced them in a conference call with reporters.

Dan Keeney, a spokesman for the West Fertilizer Co., said the company's lawyers were reviewing the citations and proposed fine. The company has 15 days to pay the fine or file an administrative appeal with OSHA. OSHA's proposed penalties could be reduced.

"Based on what they see so far, it doesn't appear that the violations that are alleged have anything to do with the accident, but they're still reviewing it," he said.

There is a separate state criminal investigation underway, too. Investigators previously narrowed the number of possible causes to three: a problem with one of the plant's electrical systems, a battery-powered golf cart, and a criminal act. They ruled out others, including a rail car on site loaded with fertilizer or someone smoking.

The magnitude of the April blast at West Fertilizer knocked out windows and rooftops all over the tiny town of West, Texas, and registered as a small earthquake. Blast victims included 10 first responders and two others who volunteered, and debris spread as far as two miles away.

Boxer said that despite the government shutdown, she wanted news of the citations to get out to prevent similar incidents.

"All of these things that they are cited for are pretty much standard operating procedure with how you deal with these chemicals," Boxer said.

The mayor of West, Tommy Muska, said OSHA's citations were inadequate. He blamed the agency for failing to inspect the facility since the early 1980s and said the violations announced Thursday are like "shutting the door after the cow is already out."

Had the facility been inspected every five years, for example, instead of every 30, some of the problems might have been discovered ahead of time, and the explosion and deaths could have been prevented, Muska said. He noted that many rural communities have similar plants either near or in downtown areas. In May, The Associated Press drew on public records in 28 states and found more than 120 facilities within a potentially devastating blast zone of schoolchildren, the elderly and the sick. More than a half-dozen states, including Ohio, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho and South Carolina, refused to provide information to the AP about dangerous facilities, citing the risk of terrorist attacks and their interpretations of federal law.

Fertilizer plants need a closer look, Muska said. "We can be Monday morning quarterbacks all year long, but what we really need to do is try to prevent this," he said.

The blast prompted President Barack Obama to issue an executive order on Aug. 1 giving federal agencies 90 days to draft tighter standards for the storage and handling of ammonium nitrate.

___

Associated Press writers Sam Hananel in Washington and Ramit Plushnick-Masti in Houston contributed to this report.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



RELATED ARTICLES

Several Injured as Tornadoes Hit Oklahoma, Arkansas

Severe weather strikes Midwest communities.

Several Injured as Tornadoes Hit Oklahoma, Arkansas

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — The first batch of severe weather in this year's tornado season has devastated an Oklahoma mobile home park, and storms across ...

Shaughn Maxwell Presents on Disaster Response Implementation at EMS Today 2015

Award-winner and EMS innovator Shaughn Maxwell took audiences through two unique historic disasters in 2014. When a major landslide occurred in Oso, Wash., t...

Video, Photos: Plane Clips Roadway in Taiwan during Takeoff

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — A Taiwanese flight carrying 58 people turned on its side in midair, clipped an elevated roadway and careened into a shallow river...

Tornado Strikes Georgia Community

ALMA, Ga. (AP) — An assistant fire chief in rural Georgia says a tornado swept through the area and destroyed a mobile home, injuring two people inside...

Lost Arizona Hikers Flown to Safety

Three lost hikers in the Catalina Mountains were airlifted out by a helicopter Friday night after becoming lost in hazardous weather. The three women, w...

Features by Topic

JEMS Connect

CURRENT DISCUSSIONS

 
 

EMS BLOGS

Blogger Browser

Today's Featured Posts

Featured Careers