A Failure to Police Chemical Plants

A Failure to Police Chemical Plants

June 4, 2013

"The deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Tex., in April has highlighted glaring shortcomings in federal and state regulation of facilities that produce, store and use toxic chemicals.

The casualties in Texas — 14 killed and nearly 200 injured — were shocking, but the fact is that chemical disasters imperil millions of Americans who live and work close to industrial plants in dense cities and sprawling suburbs. Last November, the Congressional Research Service identified 2,560 facilities that could each put more than 10,000 people at risk in the event of an accident. Last year, 1,270 people died in more than 30,000 chemical spills and accidents. The Texas catastrophe showed that federal regulators have been far too lax in their oversight of ammonium nitrate, the fertilizer at the center of this explosion. The West Fertilizer Company stored 540,000 pounds of the stuff at its plant in 2012 (it is unclear how much it had in April). In spite of the potential risks posed by the fertilizer, plants are allowed to keep it near residential areas. Plants with large quantities are required to tell the Department of Homeland Security how they keep the material secure, but the West plant did not bother to do so."

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Photograph from Mr. Conservative