More than a year after the West Fertilizer Co. explosion in Texas exposed holes in the country’s chemical-safety network, federal agencies said Friday that progress was being made to prevent future catastrophes.
Some fundamental changes, such as finding safer alternatives to ammonium nitrate, the fertilizer that fueled the blast, still are uncertain, in part because of fertilizer industry opposition.
“I think you can clearly look at this as a broader effort on chemical safety,” said Mathy Stanislaus, the EPA’s assistant administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.
A report released Friday updates the federal response to President Barack Obama’s Aug. 1 executive order on chemical plant safety and security.
Obama ordered the review after a fertilizer-company fire and resulting explosion on April 17, 2013, killed 15, injured hundreds and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage in West, about 80 miles south of Dallas.
The EPA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Department of Homeland Security prepared the report, which reflects input from listening sessions around the country that drew 1,800 people.
The blast revealed wide gaps in local emergency planning, state coordination and federal oversight. The 99-page report acknowledges details of the shortcomings.
Among them were a lack of local training, untested response plans, missing information and ineffective communication from industries.
The report outlines some reforms to be completed by a year from now and longer work on possible new regulations.
Stanislaus said an EPA alert will emphasize the importance of industry compliance with best practices. The agency also plans to request information on topics such as safer alternatives to ammonium nitrate, expanding risk-management plan rules and documenting so-far unknown “near misses” with dangerous chemicals, he said.
The fertilizer industry generally opposes new regulations, the report noted.
In a statement issued Friday, the Fertilizer Institute, a trade group, said it was taking voluntary actions, such as issuing guidelines for retail fertilizer outlets.
The group said it backs a rule change that would require retail outlets to report fertilizer stocks to state and local officials.
©2014 The Dallas Morning News