The company that operated the West, Texas, fertilizer plant where 30 tons of highly explosive ammonia nitrateâ€”stored in wooden sheds without sprinkler systems and near other combustible materialâ€”caught fire,Â exploded and killed 15 people, including 10 firefighters, in April was cited for two dozen serious safety violations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
OSHA issued the citations Wednesday but, because of the Republican government shutdown, the agency was unable to announce the action. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, announced the safety violations Thursday.
Among other violations, West Fertilizer Co. was cited for unsafe handling and storage of the anhydrous ammonia and ammonia nitrate that exploded and leveled large parts of the town of West. The company alsoÂ was cited for not having an emergency response plan. OSHA is proposing fines totaling $118,300.
Also after the blast, it was revealed that the plant had not been inspected by OSHA since 1985.
Storage of ammonia nitrate is regulated by a â€śpatchworkâ€ť of state and federal standards with â€śmany holes,â€ť the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB)Â told a Senate hearingÂ earlier this year.
Eleven years ago, the CSB urged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)â€”which hasnâ€™t updated its rules on ammonia nitrate since 1997â€”to adopt its safety recommendations for storage, handling and use of the chemical.
In August, President BarackÂ Obama issued an executive orderÂ for federal agencies, including OSHA and the EPA, to develop new rules to address the handling and storage of industrial chemicals, such as the ammonia nitrate fertilizer in the Texas explosion. Those rules were due by Nov. 1 but, because of the Republican government shutdown, they are likely to be delayed.
Thousands of facilities around the nation store large amounts of ammonia nitrate, especially in rural areas. Thatâ€™s why new rules are desperately needed, said Boxer.
“All of these things that they are cited for are pretty much standard operating procedure with how you deal with these chemicals.”
This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO Â on October 11, 2013. Â Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Mike HallÂ is aÂ former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for theÂ United Mine Workers Journaland managing editor of theÂ Seafarers Log. Â He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.