WEST, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – Federal investigators called the fertilizer plant explosion in West preventable and said it should never have happened.
At a four-hour long meeting Tuesday night, the Chemical Safety Board presented its findings to more than 100 people who showed up at the West Community Center.
Board member Beth Rosenberg told the crowd West served as an important wake up call. “If the lessons from West do not cause any change in Texas and throughout the U.S., I would consider that a second tragedy.”
The agency’s investigators said a disconnect between federal and state agencies is partly to blame for the fertilizer plant explosion one year ago.
The blast killed 15 people, including 12 first responders.
During the meeting, the board read aloud the names of the victims and observed a moment of silence to honor the victims’ memories. The board found the firefighters, emergency planners, and residents weren’t fully aware of the risk of an explosion at the plant.
Investigators also blamed the West Fertilizer Company for the deadly blast. The agency showed a virtual tour of what the plant looked like before.
The board faulted the company for storing ammonium nitrate, the chemical that exploded, in a wooden building, inside wooden bins, which were combustible.
Rafael Moure-Eraso, Chairman of the Chemical Safety Board said, “There was not a sprinkler system that could flood the place, it will catch fire.”
Residents here including Mayor Tommy Muska demanded the manufacturers of ammonium nitrate make it less flammable.
Charlie Musselwhite , a West property owner said, “If you can make it safer as Mayor Tommy said for so little money, why not do so?”
Board members say they’re hoping the EPA will further regulate ammonium nitrate and consider it an explosive.
That may be announced in the next few weeks, when results of a federal review ordered by President Obama are released.
State Fire Marshal Chris Conneally told the board of a proposal state lawmakers are considering would require companies storing ten thousand pounds of ammonium nitrate would have to either put in a sprinkler system into their facility or store the chemical in a non-combustible bin.
Older facilities would also have to follow the new rule, but would have three years to comply.
State lawmakers must approve any legislation.
Conneally also said lawmakers may consider changing state law so that smaller counties with fewer than 250,000 residents or those near counties with that population will now be able to establish a fire code.
The Chemical Safety Board criticized Texas for not having a statewide fire code.
Mayor Muska of West says his city is now working on such a plan as well.
Conneally told the board he doesn’t want to rush into a solution for fear they’ll miss the right target.
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