U.S. Agencies Issue New Security Warning for Chemical Culprit In Texas Explosion

Douglas P. Guarino, Global Security Newswire
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Douglas P. Guarino, Global Security Newswire
Sept. 3, 2013, 10:02 a.m.

WASH­ING­TON — Three fed­er­al agen­cies on Fri­day is­sued a new se­cur­ity warn­ing for the ex­plos­ive chem­ic­al be­lieved to have triggered an April dis­aster the in West, Texas – prompt­ing praise from a key sen­at­or.

The ad­vis­ory, is­sued by the U.S. En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency, Oc­cu­pa­tion­al Safety and Health Ad­min­is­tra­tion and Bur­eau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco, Fire­arms and Ex­plos­ives, per­tains to am­moni­um ni­trate, which is be­lieved to have been stored in sig­ni­fic­ant quant­it­ies at the Texas fer­til­izer plant that ex­ploded, lev­el­ing homes and killing 14 people.

EPA of­fi­cials said in a state­ment that the alert “provides les­sons learned for fa­cil­ity own­ers and op­er­at­ors, emer­gency plan­ners and first re­spon­ders from re­cent in­cid­ents,” in­clud­ing the April tragedy.

Dur­ing a con­gres­sion­al hear­ing on the in­cid­ent in June, Sen­at­or Bar­bara Box­er (D-Cal­if.) slammed EPA of­fi­cials for what she said was a lack of ac­tion aimed at pro­tect­ing the pub­lic from do­mest­ic-chem­ic­al threats. In par­tic­u­lar, Box­er, who chairs the Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee, cri­ti­cized the agency for not hav­ing is­sued an alert on am­moni­um ni­trate since 1997.

In a state­ment on Fri­day, Box­er said she was “very grate­ful” the ad­min­is­tra­tion is­sued the up­date.

“After the ter­rible ex­plo­sion in West, which took the lives of at least 14 people in­clud­ing first re­spon­ders, I pledged that the EPW Com­mit­tee would fo­cus on how to pre­vent such need­less tra­gedies in the fu­ture,” Box­er said. “If am­moni­um ni­trate is stored safely or if al­tern­at­ives are used, ex­plo­sions could have been pre­ven­ted in the past and more ex­plo­sions could be pre­ven­ted in the fu­ture.”

EPA of­fi­cials have yet to is­sue new rules on chem­ic­al risk man­age­ment, which Box­er said dur­ing the June hear­ing had been re­com­men­ded by a 2002 U.S. Chem­ic­al Safety Board re­port, and for which labor and en­vir­on­ment­al groups have since pe­ti­tioned the agency.

Pres­id­ent Obama in Au­gust did, however, sign an ex­ec­ut­ive or­der dir­ect­ing the Home­land Se­cur­ity, Labor and Ag­ri­cul­ture sec­ret­ar­ies to “de­vel­op a list of po­ten­tial reg­u­lat­ory and le­gis­lat­ive pro­pos­als to im­prove the safe and se­cure stor­age, hand­ling, and sale of am­moni­um ni­trate.” The or­der also called on EPA and OSHA of­fi­cials to re­view wheth­er their chem­ic­al risk-man­age­ment pro­grams should cov­er ad­di­tion­al chem­ic­als.

The pres­id­en­tial dir­ect­ive also ad­dressed the is­sue of so-called “out­lier” fa­cil­it­ies that, like the Texas fa­cil­ity, the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment failed to reg­u­late un­der its Chem­ic­al Fa­cil­ity Anti-Ter­ror­ism Stand­ards. The or­der es­tab­lished a chem­ic­al fa­cil­ity safety and se­cur­ity work­ing group, through which sev­er­al fed­er­al agen­cies are ex­pec­ted to work to­geth­er to im­prove their co­ordin­a­tion with state and loc­al gov­ern­ments.

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