After the 2013 fertilizer explosion in West, President Obama issued an executive order to make chemical facilities across the country safer. But since then, little has been done to secure those facilities and according to a Congressional report, Texas has the highest number of hazardous chemical plants in the nation.
Safety standards at chemical facilities across the country haven’t changed much in twenty years. New attention to chemical safety came last year in the wake of the deadly fertilizer explosion in West and last month after four workers died at DuPont chemical plant in La Porte, Texas, apparently from exposure to chemical fumes.
California Senator Barbara Boxer is the chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. She thinks changes aren’t being made quickly enough. Here Senator Boxer is talking to David Michaels, the director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA.
"The president issued an executive order and you’re saying with deadlines and you’re ignoring that, then you aren’t following the law," Boxer said. "I’m asking you what is your goal for finishing this problem that you have to finish. Will it be before President Obama leaves office, will it be done by then?"
A Congressional report requested by Democratic Senator Edward Markey from Massachusetts showed that many facilities nationwide are still categorized as “vulnerable” despite the president’s executive order. Texas has the most facilities with hazardous chemicals—1,424—34 of are in population centers considered to have over 1,000,000 people at risk in a “worst-case scenario.”
Markey says there needs to be additional consideration for water treatment plants that contain chlorine and fertilizer facilities that store ammonium nitrate—the active ingredient in the West explosion and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
"We would do well to recognize that preventing every accident attack or natural disaster is impossible, but what can we do to prevent the worst consequences of these events," Markey asked. "What can we do to recognize the catastrophic accidents and attacks using chemicals have already happened? What we can do is to heed the wake up calls that point up the cost of our failure to reduce the frequency and consequences of chemical accidents."
Representatives from the EPA and OSHA did not provide a specific date when new regulations might be proposed. Texas lawmakers have proposed legislation to store ammonium nitrate in fireproof containers in areas with fire sprinklers.