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After West Fertilizer explosion, new safety rules stall

If you live north of Waco, Texas, you will probably never forget the devastating explosion at the West Fertilizer Company in 2013. Twelve first-responders died in the explosion, and three residents perished. Homes, businesses, apartment buildings, schools and hospitals were leveled, and the entire town of West was affected in some way. You probably suffered losses of your own on that tragic evening.

In the years since the disaster, many have worked, not only to repair the physical damage caused by the explosion, but to repair the lives of those impacted, and to ensure such catastrophes never occur again. However, proposed changes in laws have abruptly stalled, potentially placing millions of people at risk.

West Fertilizer safety failures

Immediately after the West Fertilizer Company explosion, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began drafting new rules for risk management in facilities storing hazardous substances. The rules required such industries, like those storing combustible fertilizer ingredients, to submit a revision of their risk protection plans to the EPA every five years. In addition, the rules demanded transparency of information so your community and others built near such facilities would be more aware of the dangers, and first-responders would have the information they need to react properly to emergencies.

However, EPA director Scott Pruitt recently announced he was delaying the enactment of these new rules, and you may wonder why. Some of the reasons include:

  • Pruitt worries that releasing details about the operations of hazardous storage facilities may make those facilities vulnerable to terrorism.
  • Lobbyists and representatives of the chemical industry believe the regulations place an unfair burden on them.
  • Some have petitioned that the regulations would also place a burden on agencies that have to enforce them.

Meanwhile, it may come as a surprise to you to learn that, according to a video produced by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board revealing the results of its investigation into the West Fertilizer explosion, there are no zoning restrictions for the distance between your community and a facility storing hazardous chemicals. You may not be aware of the dangers within a facility if the EPA does not enact the rules that require such facilities to reveal those potential hazards.

As the rebuilding of West, Texas, continues, you may be slowly putting your life back together. However, you may also live in fear of such an event happening again. As long as regulations are not in place to address the safety failures that led to this disaster, your fears may be well-founded.

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