Reporting Jack Fink
AUSTIN (CBS 11 NEWS) – Two months to the day after the West Fertilizer Company plant exploded, killing 15 people, Texas lawmakers say they’re in no rush to propose tougher regulations or laws to prevent the tragedy from happening again.
The Chairman of the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, State Representative Joe Pickett D-El Paso said, “If there are any laws or statutes that’s changed, I see it more as minimal. I think we can do what need to do to protect the public administratively at this point.”
During his committee’s second hearing since the April 17th blast, Pickett asked the state’s top public safety officials to provide more information to the public.
Legislators directed the State Fire Marshal, Chris Connealy to develop an online database, similar to the state’s sex offender registry.
It would allow residents to quickly find 16 fertilizer-mixing plants across the state similar to the facility in West, and determine how many chemicals are housed there.
These facilities each store at least ten thousand pounds of Ammonium Nitrate, the chemical that exploded at the West plant.
Connealy says, “They can check whether it’s by zip code or another methodology, so they know what’s at that facility, those chemicals on site.
During the hearing, State Rep. Kenneth Sheets R-Dallas asked Connealy if the state has checked if there are any schools, homes or apartment buildings surrounding those 16 plants — just like they did in West.
Connealy said, “No sir, I have not.”
Sheets asked, “Ok, do you know of anyone who is?”
Connealy responded by saying, “I’m not aware of anyone who is at this point.”
After the hearing, Connealy told reporters “That’s the local jurisdiction. What’s built close to those facilities. They make those determinations.”
The state fire marshal agreed to have officials in his office ask the 16 facilities to voluntarily put up signs disclosing that they store those dangerous chemicals.
There is another danger the state acknowledges.
The Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety Steve McCraw says the state has no ability to track when and where large amounts of dangerous chemicals are being transported along the state’s ten thousand miles of railroad tracks.
But McCraw says the state is working with the railroads to change that. “As quick as they can provide us the information, we are prepared to put it on a tracking capability to allow for first responders to know when hazardous materials are moving around the state of Texas.
Most of the people killed by the explosion at the West Company Fertilizer plant, were the volunteer firefighters who proudly served their community.
At the hearing, lawmakers said they want to prevent that tragedy from happening again.
Rep. Pickett told Connealy, “We need to make sure the voluntary firefighters are prepared. We need to offer them your expertise.”
Conney said, “We’re glad to assist fire departments that have requests.”
Rep. Pickett asked, “Have you been approached since West?”
Connealy said, “No sir.”
Rep. Pickett replied, “So we need to approach them.”
Lawmakers praised the volunteer firefighters in West.
But with 80 percent of the state’s firefighters being volunteers, State Rep. Ron Simmons of Carrollton says more can be done to help them.
Simmons says, “We need to have standards that say ok, if they have these kinds of chemicals, this is the kind of perimeter we need to set-up, this chemical can have a secondary-type of explosion, these are the kinds of things we need to do.”
Representative Pickett vowed to hold an additional hearings about West later this summer and fall.
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