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.