One year later, West Texas fertilizer explosion disaster a reminder of need for updated safeguards

At a time when our nation’s system of safeguards and standards are constantly under attack, it’s up to us to stand up and protect them. Americans want to be protected from chemical companies using unsafe practices, from banks and lenders trying to use us to make a profit, from unsafe food and drugs, and more. That is why we are using this week to provide a positive message: that Americans want strong public safeguards and want to see our nation’s ability to protect its citizens strengthened.

Thursday, April 17, 2014 is the one year anniversary of the West, Texas fertilizer storage facility explosion, a disaster that devastated a community, claimed 15 lives, and injured over 160 others. The West Fertilizer Company supplied chemicals to farmers since it was founded in 1962, and was last inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 1985.

In the aftermath of the explosion, the operator of the fertilizer plant was cited for 24 safety violations and charged $118,300 in penalties. Safety violations included exposing workers to explosion hazards and chemical burns, unsafe handling and storage of chemicals, failing to have an emergency response plan and not having an appropriate number of fire extinguishers.

The US Chemical Safety Board reported that regulation of the dangerous chemicals used in the industry fall under shoddy standards that are dated and far weaker than standards in other countries. However, Texas, which has the country’s highest number of workplace fatalities, is still wary of regulations.

During the government shutdown 90% of CSB employees were furloughed, causing a delay in the investigation of the West, Texas disaster.

Since the West explosion, several incidents involving toxic chemicals have occurred that have killed workers, injured community residents, contaminated drinking water, and forced the evacuation of entire towns.  You’d think that Congress would be doing more to strengthen our nation’s system of public protections and safeguards to prevent similar incidents from occurring. However, this has not been the case. In one year, Congress has introduced anti-regulatory bills that would weaken our nation’s system of protection, potentially leading to more disasters and hardship for the American people. And many crucial regulations that would protect lives —from food safety rules mandated by congress to long-overdue standards curbing water pollution from power plants – have been stalled for years.


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