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“U.S. Chemical Safety Board Releases New Safety Video, “Dangerously Close: Explosion in West, Texas,” Detailing Report Findings and Recommendations on 2013 Fatal West Fertilizer Company Explosion and Fire “

January 29, 2016, Washington, DC – Today the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) released a safety video into the fatal April 17, 2013, fire and explosion at the West Fertilizer Company in West, Texas, which resulted in 15 fatalities, more than 260 injuries, and widespread community damage. The deadly fire and explosion occurred when about thirty tons of fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate (FGAN) exploded after being heated by a fire at the storage and distribution facility.

The CSB’s newly released 12-minute safety video entitled, “Dangerously Close: Explosion in West, Texas,” includes a 3D animation of the fire and explosion as well as interviews with CSB investigators and Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland. The video can be viewed above or on the CSB’s website and YouTube.

Chairperson Sutherland said, “This tragic accident should not have happened. We hope that this video, by sharing lessons learned from our West Fertilizer Company investigation, will help raise awareness of the hazards of fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate so that a similar accident can be avoided in the future.”

The CSB’s investigation found that several factors contributed to the severity of the explosion, including poor hazard awareness and fact that nearby homes and business were built in close proximity to the West Fertilizer Company over the years prior to the accident. The video explains that there was a stockpile of 40 to 60 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at the facility in plywood bins on the night of the explosion. And although FGAN is stable under normal conditions, it can violently detonate when exposed to contaminants in a fire.

In the video, Team Lead Johnnie Banks says, “We found that as the city of West crept closer and closer to the facility, the surrounding community was not made aware of the serious explosion hazard in their midst. And the West Fertilizer Company underestimated the danger of storing fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate in ordinary combustible structures.”

The CSB investigation concludes that this lack of awareness was due to several factors, including gaps in federal regulatory coverage of ammonium nitrate storage facilities. The video details safety recommendations made to OSHA and the EPA to strengthen their regulations to protect the public from hazards posed by FGAN.

Finally, the video explains how inadequate emergency planning contributed to the tragic accident. The CSB found that the West Volunteer Fire Department was not required to perform pre-incident planning for an ammonium nitrate-related emergency, nor were the volunteer firefighters required to attend training on responding to fires involving hazardous chemicals. As a result, the CSB made several safety recommendations to various stakeholders, including the EPA, to better inform and train emergency responders on the hazards of FGAN and other hazardous chemicals.

Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland said, “The CSB’s goal is to ensure that no one else be killed or injured due to a lack of awareness of hazardous chemicals in their communities. If adopted, the Board’s recommendations can help prevent disasters like the one in West, Texas.”

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating serious chemical accidents. The agency’s board members are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems. The Board does not issue citations or fines but makes safety recommendations to companies, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Please visit our website, www.csb.gov

For more information, contact Communications Manager Hillary Cohen at public@csb.gov or by phone at 202.446.8095.

 

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Testimony of CSB at Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Hearing – Chevron Fire, West Texas Explosion & West Va. Water Crisis

CSB

U.S. Chemical Safety Board Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso at March 6, 2014, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Hearing Entitled “Preventing Potential Chemical Threats and Improving Safety: Oversight of the President’s Executive Order on Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security”

CLICK HERE to view the written statement

Chairman Boxer, Senator Vitter, and distinguished Committee members – thank you for inviting me today. I am Dr. Rafael Moure-Eraso, Chairperson of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

The Chevron refinery fire in California in 2012the West Texas explosion last year – the West Virginia water crisis in January:

All of these were preventable accidents. 

The United States is facing an industrial chemical safety crisis.

After all of these accidents, we hear frustration and heartbreak.  Workers, emergency responders, and the public continue to die and suffer injuries.

Estus Powell, a father who lost his daughter in the 2010 fire at the Tesoro refinery in Washington, recently told us, “My life was forever changed. All I want to know is, does anybody care?  It seems we can get nobody to have any teeth in anything, to get anything done.” 

Our investigations have concluded that certain fundamental changes are needed.  We have a regulatory system that sometimes encourages paper compliance over real risk reduction.

As an interim measure, I advocate that the EPA use its existing authority under the Clean Air Act to encourage chemical facilities to make their operations inherently safer where it is feasible to do so.

Then the EPA should follow up by adopting specific regulations with clear requirements.

The goal should be to drive chemical process risks “as low as reasonably practicable.”  In Europe, this is a cornerstone of the regulatory system.  Insurance statistics tell us European chemical sites have an accident rate at least three times lower than the U.S.

Time and again, as our reports show, we find examples where companies could have used available, feasible, safer technologies to prevent disastrous accidents, but chose not to do so.

I realize inherently safer technology, or IST, is a term that has drawn some controversy.  But it is really just a well-established concept, developed by industry and used by industry. 

It focuses on eliminating or minimizing hazards, instead of just trying to control hazards that already exist. Many accidents could be prevented using off-the-shelf technologies such as corrosion resistant materials, or reducing the storage of hazardous materials to the minimum necessary. 

In West Virginia, applying these principles could have prevented or reduced the consequences of the recent spill.  For example, the chemical storage tank could have been sited away from drinking water supplies and constructed of resistant materials.

I commend Senators Boxer, Manchin, and Rockefeller for promptly introducing legislation on this and encourage you to pass a strong bill.

I am also encouraged by the leadership of the White House on these issues – especially the executive order on chemical safety – and I hope that regulatory agencies respond in kind.  

The EPA has the authority today to require companies to apply IST in design, equipment, and processes. I call on industry to join in supporting this reform, which companies know will go a long way to stopping these catastrophes.

I must add that no regulatory system will work unless regulatory agencies like the EPA and OSHA receive more resources for more highly specialized, technical inspectors.

Madam Chairman, your own state of California has been leading the way in this.  Following the Chevron fire in 2012, the legislature has moved to triple the number of process safety inspectors, using fees collected from the refining industry.  And California is going to mandate using safer technologies and is looking at what’s called the “safety case” model.  Under the safety case, the burden is on companies to prove they can operate safely by following the most up to date safety standards.  It’s a condition of operating.

In conclusion, these major accidents don’t have to happen.  They kill and injure workers, harm communities, and destroy productive businesses.  The best companies in the U.S. and overseas know how to prevent these disasters – but we need a regulatory system here that ensures all companies are operating to the same high standards.

That concludes my testimony. Thank you. 

CSB Chair Calls for Regulatory Coverage of Reactive Chemicals Following the West Fertilizer Explosion and Fire

Washington, DC, August 20, 2013 – In a new video safety message released today, CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso calls for regulatory coverage of reactive chemicals following the massive ammonium nitrate explosion that killed at least 14 people and devastated the town of West, Texas, on April 17, 2013. Reactive chemicals, like ammonium nitrate, can undergo potentially hazardous chemical reactions, such as violently detonating, if not managed properly.

 

The safety message includes testimony from Chairperson Moure-Eraso during a hearing about the West accident before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. At that hearing, held on June 27, 2013, Chairperson Moure-Eraso said, “The destruction I personally saw at West – the obliteration of homes, schools and businesses by an ammonium nitrate explosion – was almost beyond imagination.” 

 

As noted in the video, the CSB has determined that ammonium nitrate storage falls under a patchwork of U.S. standards and guidance, which does not prohibit many of the conditions found at the West facility. These include the use of combustible wooden storage bins and buildings and a lack of sprinkler systems in case of fire. 

 

Chairperson Moure-Eraso stated, “The fertilizer industry tells us that U.S. sites commonly store ammonium nitrate in wooden buildings and bins – even near homes, schools or other vulnerable facilities.  This situation must be addressed.” 

 

The video safety message concludes, “The CSB believes it’s past time for OSHA and EPA to regulate reactive hazards – including ammonium nitrate – under their process safety rules.”

 

In a 2002 study, the CSB called on OSHA and the EPA to expand their standards to include reactive chemicals and hazards, but to date neither agency has acted on the recommendations.  During the Senate hearing, Chairman Moure-Eraso said, “Ammonium nitrate would likely have been included, if the EPA had adopted our 2002 recommendation to cover reactive chemicals under its Risk Management Program. And OSHA has not focused extensively on ammonium nitrate storage and hadn’t inspected West since 1985.”

 

The safety message goes on to describe other serious reactive chemical accidents investigated by the CSB since its 2002 study.  These include a December 19, 2007, explosion and fire at T2 Laboratories in Jacksonville, Florida; a January 31, 2006, explosion at the Synthron chemical manufacturing facility in Morganton, North Carolina; and an April 12, 2004, toxic release at MFG Chemical in Dalton, Georgia.

 

The safety message can be viewed on CSB.gov, the CSB’s safety message channel on YouTube, www.youtube.com/safetymessages, and the CSB’s Facebook page for the West explosion, www.facebook.com/westexplosion.

 

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency’s board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.

 

The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Visit our website, http://www.csb.gov.

 

For more information, contact Communications Manager Hillary Cohen, cell 202-446-8094 or Sandy Gilmour at 202-251-5496 or email the CSB Public Affairs Department at public@csb.gov

CSB Releases New Video Footage Documenting Extent of Community Damage from Explosion in West, Texas‏

Washington, DC – Today the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) released a new three-minute compilation of video footage showing the extensive community damage from the ammonium nitrate fertilizer explosion on April 17 in West, Texas.  The explosion led to at least 14 deaths and injured around 200 others.  The narrated video collected by CSB investigators at the site illustrates the extent of destruction to schools, residences, and other nearby facilities such as the West Haven Rest nursing home and a nearby apartment block and playground.  The video can be viewed on the CSB’s Facebook page for the West accident investigation.

For general information about the CSB, visit CSB.gov.

CSB

 

 

 

Update! Reglatory Confusion & Oversight Lead To West Fertilizer & Chemical Company, West Texas Explosion & Fire

Courtesy of MSNBC All In Part 1

Courtesy of MSNBC All In Part 2

 

Before 270 tons of ammonium nitratet exploded at a West, Texas, fertilizer plant last Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security “did not even know the plant existed,”  ranking Republican on the DHS House committee Bernie Thompson said Monday.

According to Reuters, 270 tons of ammonium nitrate is 1,350 times more than what should trigger safety oversight from the DHS. (For comparison, the West fertilizer plant had 135 times more ammonium nitrate on its premises than Timothy McVeigh used when he blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.) But the last full safety inspection of West plant was 28 years ago.

Why had regulation on this plant become so lax in the last three decades? MSNBC’s Alex Wagner blamed President George W. Bush on The Last Word Thursday:

“We celebrated the man’s presidency today at the opening of his presidential library,” Wagner said, “but if you look at what happened to OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration], which is the organization which oversees workplace hazards and really has an eye out for the American worker, I believe 86% fewer regulations were issued under Bush. The man he appointed to head OSHA literally fell asleep on the job multiple times…the notion of regulation became a very bad thing under Bush.”

The “bad notion of regulation” was echoed by Texas Governor Rick Perry Monday in Chicago, on a trip meant to lure businesses to the Lone Star state.

“All business have to look at their bottom line,” Perry told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Taxes, regulation, legal system, workforce–that’s what government does. Government can either be a hurdle or it can smooth out the road. We think in Texas we smoothed that road out as good as anybody.”

On The Last Word Thursday, MSNBC’s Richard Wolffe pushed back against the ”smoothing out” of the regulatory road when it leads to unsafe work environments.

“You’ve got to ask yourself as governor, elected by the people in Texas, are you representing business interests–because that’s one measure of his success, right? [Perry] brags about how many business he’s pulled out of other states and therefore ‘created’ those jobs…that’s one measure of him. Another measure is: are your voters, your citizens, safe? When they go to work, do they come home at the end of the day?”

Investigators are still trying to determine what ignited the massive build-up of ammonium nitrate–theories include a small seed fire that could have burst into flame, or the sparking of another flammable gas called anhydrous ammonia–but nothing is confirmed. What’s certain is that the amount of ammonium nitrate present in the plant was an accident waiting to happen.

“The whole thing may have fallen through a number of regulatory cracks,” a federal official whose agency helped regulate the plant told The New York Times Wednesday.

Now those cracks have caused the deaths of at least a 14 people, with a final death toll still to come.

 

West Fertilizer (Anhydrous Ammonia) Plant Update & CSB Deploys To Massive Deadly Explosion And Fire at Fertilizer Plant In West,Texas

Rescue crews are searching the smoldering remains of a fertilizer (anhydrous ammonia) facility in central Texas, and a swath of destroyed homes around it, for victims of a massive explosion that injured more than 160 people and may have killed as many as 15, authorities said.

The estimate of how many may have died in the explosion Wednesday night includes an estimated three or four “first responders” who remained missing hours after the blast, most likely volunteer firefighters or ambulance workers. Officials said they were among many who responded to a fire at the West Fertilizer retail facility and were urgently trying to evacuate people from the area, after realizing that the blaze had the potential to trigger a huge blast.

“Last night was truly a nightmare scenario in that community,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said Thursday, adding, “This tragedy has most likely hit every family” in West, a tiny town 20 miles north of Waco with a population of 2,800.

Source: Washington Post ®  (See the latest updates on the Texas explosion here.)

Note: Graphic language in video, but it shows the ferocity of an anhydrous ammonia explosion.

West Texas Plant Told The EPA That It Had “No Risk For Explosion”.

I am so very tired of seeing the horrific results of three decades of deficit hawkery, which weakened the regulatory infrastructure of this country and results in completely preventable and massive tragedies like this. Let’s start with the lax zoning requirements, which allowed such a high-risk enterprise smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

And the Chemical Safety Board, which was deployed to the West TX site last night, is chronically understaffed and inadequate because… you guessed it, it’s underfunded by a Big Oil-friendly Congress! They get $10.5 million to regulate an industry with 170 major companies making 70,000 different chemicals, totaling $750 billion revenue. Thanks, Congress!

Then there’s OSHA, which is supposed to protect workers in the workplace but is really more of a fig leaf. Do you know how many OSHA inspectors we have for the entire country — more accurately, how many we don’t? Six fertilizer plants were inspected by OSHA in the past five years. West Fertilizer was not one of them. (When West Texas was cited for OSHA violations in 1985, their fine was $30.)

Experts say for a country the size of the United States, we should have 12,000 OSHA inspectors. We have 2,220. And the fines are laughable.

So remember: This tragedy was completely preventable. We just didn’t bother. Because Grover Norquist fights to keep that money out of government agencies and in the pockets of the 1%. Freedom!

The West Fertilizer Co factory of Texas, which exploded late Wednesday, was fined in 2006 by the Environmental Protection Agency for not having a risk-management plan. The same year the plant reported it posed ‘no risk’ of fire.

Complaints were made in June 2006 regarding a strong smell of ammonia emanating from the plant, according to reports publicized by The Dallas Morning News (DMN).

The concerns prompted Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to investigate. The plant was fined later in August by the EPA, which imposed a fine of $2,300 for failure to have a risk-management plan that was in line with federal standards.

Such federal regulations are in place to ensure the prevention of chemical accidents through safeguards.

A later report filed by the plant itself with EPA stated “no” under fire or explosive risks, saying that the, “worst possible scenario … would be a 10-minute release of ammonia gas that would injure no one.”

Ah, yes — self reporting! The process pushed by Ronald Reagan to replace federal inspectors, who claimed companies would be honest because after all, who would want the liability costs of lying? Just about everyone, as it turns out.

They went on to say that their ‘second-worst’ scenario would be a leak from a broken hose used to transfer the product, which would also not result in any injuries.

The facility stated that it had no other dangerous chemicals on hand, adding that the plan was on file with the local fire department and that the company adhered to proper safety rules.

Anhydrous ammonia is liable to explode if kept in certain concentrations inside containers. However, it is not generally considered a risk when in the air and in gas form.

Regulators in Texas were fully aware that the fertilizer plant harbored two 12,000-gallon tanks of anhydrous ammonia and was near a school and residential neighborhood.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) online records also show that there have been no federal inspections of West Fertilizer Co. over the past five years.

West Fertilizer Co. aka Adair Grain Inc. is owned/managed by Donald Adair, Tedd Uptmore and Wanda Adair, according to Lee Fang. Grain elevators are also prone to explosions. Seems like it might be a good idea to inspect all of their holdings. I wonder if it will happen. And I wonder if our lazy, complicit media will look at the larger picture.

Source: Crooks & Liars

CSB Deploys to Massive Explosion and Fire at Fertilizer Plant Near Waco, Texas

Washington, DC, April 17, 2013 –  A large investigation team from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) is deploying to the scene of a massive fire and explosion at the West Fertilizer Plant located in West, Texas, north of Waco.

Local emergency officials have told the CSB of a large number of injuries and destroyed buildings in the town.

The investigative team will be led CSB Western Regional Office Director Don Holmstrom and is scheduled to arrive in Texas Thursday afternoon.

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency’s board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.

For more information, contact Hillary Cohen at 202.446.8094  Hillary.Cohen@csb.govor Sandy Gilmour at 202. 251.5496  Sandy.Gilmour@csb.gov.

Note: The political rhetoric noted in the piece above from Crooks and Liars was used not as a reflection of this Blog’s political leanings. It was used for facts related to why “Incidents Like this Happen”in the USA..

 

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