Inquiries Launched into the Safety of the West, TX Plant

A week after an explosion of a fertilizer plant in West, TX, two lawmakers have launched official inquiries into the oversight of the plant. In a letter addressed to Chairman of the Texas Environmental Quality Commission Bryan Shaw, Democratic Sen. Rodney Ellis asked what steps can be taken to improve oversight of the state's plants and refineries. Within this letter, Ellis also asked whether or not it would be possible to incorporate new fees that would help pay for the cost of increased inspections, as well as the cost of creating "buffer zones" between plants and schools or other residential areas.

Democratic Rep. Joe Pickett has taken similar steps by extending an invitation to eight separate agencies that oversaw the plant to testify next week, including the following:

  • Department of Public Safety;
  • Texas Division of Emergency Management;
  • Emergency Management Council;
  • The Office of the Texas State Chemist;
  • Texas Commission on Environmental Quality;
  • Texas Department of Agriculture;
  • Department of State Health Services; and
  • The State Fire Marshal's Office.

With the allegedly lax safeguards at the plant, steps are being taken to help strengthen oversight and regulations, if necessary. Currently, all facilities in Texas, such as the fertilizer plant in West, are being counted so that the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee can determine whether or not it is necessary to create a database. Other questions being asked include whether or not facilities should be inventoried, and whether or not some are more dangerous than others.

Already, lawsuits are beginning to trickle in--including two West residents who were injured when the roof of their house lifted up and slammed down again, which caused a broken jaw, concussion, and blown out eardrum. The lawsuits are placing the blame on the parent company of the fertilizer plant, blaming it for negligence. According to the Insurance Council of Texas, the insured property damage losses after the explosion alone, which destroyed at least 140 homes, could easily pass $100 million.

On Thursday, April 25, President Barack Obama traveled to West, TX to speak at a memorial service for those who were injured or killed in the plant explosion. He also honored those first responders and the entire community that banded together and worked throughout the night and the following days to care for their neighbors. "To the people of West, just as we’ve seen the love you share in better times, as friends and brothers and sisters, these hard days have shown your ability to stand tall in times of unimaginable adversity,” said President Obama during his speech at Baylor University.

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