Reporting Jack Fink
WEST (CBS 11 NEWS) - It was one month ago when the West Fertilizer Company plant exploded, killing 15 people and injuring 200 others. The cause of the explosions are still undetermined.
Now, a little-known government agency is studying how to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.
Only a shell remains of an apartment building – next to the plant.
Demolition crews are now finishing what the explosions started.
Daniel Hororwitz is the managing director of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, an independent government agency which studies industrial chemical accidents, like the one in West.
Horowitz says, “This is really the worst community damage we’ve seen anywhere across the country from a chemical incident.”
The 28-34 tons of ammonium nitrate that exploded in the facility was the equivalent of 20,000 pounds of dynamite.
Officials will consider strengthening federal regulations for handling and storing the chemical, which isn’t considered extremely hazardous by the EPA.
Horowitz says, “One of the tragic ironies in this case is this facility, West Fertilizer, was regulated by EPA for the ammonia tanks that were present because they were considered toxic, but it wasn’t regulated for the ammonium nitrate.”
The Chemical Safety Board is also looking into whether fire codes are strong enough. Right now in Texas, there are no fire codes for counties with fewer than 250,000 people. In fact, the state prohibits it.
But smaller counties next to larger population areas can request a state waiver.
Horowitz says, “This is something that’s really in the benefit of everybody to have a minimum floor that these are the practices that industries are going to adhere to.”
He says they’ll study planning and zoning practices for placing high-hazard facilities close to schools and homes.
Bettye Tucker owns what’s left of the apartment complex.
She says, “It’s hard to believe that it’s so totally destroyed, and I don’t think, I”ll build it back right now.”
The work the Chemical Safety Board is conducting will be discussed during a hearing in the U.S. Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee at a later date.
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