In the interests of Calamity Fairness, here’s a most depressing Bloomberg article:
Texas Explosion Seen as Sign of Weak U.S. Oversight
The Texas plant that was the scene of a deadly explosion this week was last inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 1985. The risk plan it filed with regulators listed no flammable chemicals. And it was cleared to hold many times the ammonium nitrate that was used in the Oklahoma City bombing.
For worker- and chemical-safety advocates who have been pushing the U.S. government to crack down on facilities that make or store large quantities of hazardous chemicals, the blast in West, Texas, was a grim reminder of the risks these plants pose. And they say regulators haven’t done enough to tackle the problem.
“Definitely, somewhere along the line at the federal level, there was a failure,” Sean Moulton, director of open government policy at the Center for Effective Government, a Washington-based watchdog, said in an interview. “It was quite clear that they just didn’t consider flammability or explosiveness to be a problem, and given what occurred that was clearly shortsighted.”
The April 17 fire and explosion at Adair Grain Inc.’s West Fertilizer Co. plant flattened houses and devastated the center of the town of West, about 80 miles south of Dallas. Search crews had recovered 12 bodies as of noon today and 200 people were reported injured, making it the worst U.S. industrial disaster in three years. U.S. Senator John Cornyn said 60 people remain unaccounted for.
Cornyn said today he’s “confident” the blast will lead to a review of the government’s chemical plant safety rules….
The West fertilizer plant had only about seven employees, and “these kind of workplaces are not typically inspected by OSHA,” Peg Seminario, safety and health director of the labor federation, said in an interview. “What people don’t understand is how limited resources are to oversee workplace safety and health.”
Since the Bhopal chemical release in India in 1984 that killed thousands of people, environmental groups, unions and safety groups have been pushing the U.S. to tighten federal oversight of chemical production and storage facilities. While they pressed for such proposals after the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, legislation they advocated never passed Congress. The EPA considered regulations but dropped that idea under President George W. Bush’s administration….
On July 25 about 50 groups sent a petition to the agency asking it to invoke a provision of the Clean Air Act to implement rules mandating the use of non-hazardous chemicals, or changes in processes at those plants to reduce the risks, such as lowering concentrations or changing temperatures.
The petition was signed by groups such as the United Steelworkers, Sierra Club (FSUSX), Greenpeace and Air Alliance Houston…
Since receiving the petition, EPA hasn’t responded and it faces no deadline to do so…
Speaking of marathons, the emergent Boston “crime spree” has temporarily sucked up all the media attention, but as they finish digging out the bodies and tallying all the “minor” bad decisions that led to a major disaster, there will be — I hope — a lot of investigative journalism to be committed. From what I’ve seen so far, the plant had been running with newsmaking incident for fifty years, there were only a handful of employees, zoning laws in Texas are even more forgiving than their environmental standards, and besides, Free Market…