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Senate Scrutinizes West, Texas Explosion at Fertilizer Plant

May 1, 2013 — Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are renewing scrutiny of regulations on chemical storage facilities after a deadly fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas on April 17 killed 15 people and injured 200 others. Texas State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy is leading the investigation into the cause of the explosion, and said that they could be done as soon as May 10. He is scheduled to testify before the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committees, as well as several additional state and federal agencies.

In the meantime, Texas Governor Rick Perry has responded to criticism about a lack of oversight by stating that the fertilizer plant explosion in West would not have been prevented if state inspectors had more funding. The Houston Chronicle has reported that no state agency in Texas had the authority to inspect and enforce safety measures at the facility.

State agencies have periodically fined West Fertilizer for failing to comply with safety regulations. The most recent infraction was in 2011, when West Fertilizer was fined $10,000 for failing to safely transport potentially lethal tanks of anhydrous ammonia. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also fined the company for failing to maintain adequate risk management plans and venting ammonia into the air without obtaining permits. In 2006, West Fertilizer told state agencies there was “no” risk of fire or explosion at the plant.

Many residents of West have stated that they had no idea about the explosive potential of 270 tons of ammonia fertilizer, which was why they built their homes, schools, churches, and a nursing home so close to the facility.

Democratic representatives have stated that they will be looking into inspections of facilities that handle ammonia fertilizers, which are mostly located in Texas and other states with alkaline soils. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Joe Courtney (D-Conn) wrote:

“The fact that the Texas plant was located across the street from a middle school, a large apartment complex, and a nursing home, and near a high school makes it particularly worrisome that it was not being inspected more frequently by OSHA or the EPA.”

According to OSHA documents, the last time they inspected West Fertilizer was in 1985. Since then, OSHA has faced dwindling funding and pressure from industry groups. They now regulate workplaces on a philosophy of “voluntary compliance” in which businesses are expected to regulate themselves. Texas has only 98 OSHA inspects, and this number is expected to be cut back after the sequester. The problem is that OSHA inspections are rare and the fines are frequently less than the cost of compliance.

Do I have a Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion Lawsuit?

Our law firm has already been contacted by residents of West, Texas and we are now currently representing a number of victims in the horrible tragedy. If you or somebody you know was harmed by the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, you should contact our lawyers immediately for a free case consultation.

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