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The owner of the Texas fertilizer plant that experienced a deadly explosion in April has been issued fines, even as the government shutdown has halted the federal investigation.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited West Fertilizer Co. for 24 major safety violations and levied a $118,300 fine on the company. However, due to the government shutdown, OSHA officials were unable to make the announcement to the public, NBC reported.
Instead, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who heads the Committee on Environment and Public Works, announced the citations during a conference call. Among the citations were unsafe storage of ammonium, missing labels on storage tanks, failure to test hoses, inadequate valves and lack of fire extinguisher equipment, which may have made workers vulnerable to the explosion that destroyed the facility in April.
The blast leveled several city blocks in the town of West, Texas. The total damage, which included three schools and many residences, is estimated at $100 million. Fifteen people were killed, many of whom were firefighters working to put out the initial blaze that triggered the explosion.
OSHA is among the many federal departments that are out of operation as a result of the shutdown. About 90 percent of OSHA employees are off the job, globalpost reported. The Chemical Safety Board (CSB), which is also investigating the explosion, has only 3 staff members left on duty.
Fifteen CSB investigations have been halted due to the shutdown, NBC reported. A team of 10 employees were working on the West Fertilizer case, said CSB Director Daniel Horowitz. They were planning a public hearing on Oct. 24 in Texas "where new safety recommendations could be considered for ammonium nitrate," he said. But now, the plans are being put on hold.
"I think this explosion should wake some people up," Boxer said as she announced the citations. "Right now, God forbid if there was another explosion somewhere. We have the Chemical Safety Board almost entirely on furlough, the EPA is more than 90-percent shutdown, OSHA is furloughed, even the Nuclear Regulatory Committee is mostly shut down."
For residents of West, Texas, a stalled investigation means they'll have to wait even longer to figure out what caused the deadly incident, Kera News reported.
"There's nothing we can obviously do about the Washington issue, but I would love for them to come up with a definitive answer as to what caused that explosion," West Mayor Tommy Muska told the source. "Now, how long that takes, I don't know. They've had six months to work on it, I would think that would probably be long enough."
Muska was hopeful the federal investigation would yield not only answers, but informed regulation for plants with similar chemicals and designs.
"But I have confidence that they'll get together eventually and work this stuff out," said Muska. "I hope they do – and it's their jobs to get this stuff worked out and moved forward."
Industrial Safety News brought to you by Safety Systems Technology, Inc., leaders in fire and gas detection.