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Silver Lining

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The Obama Administration has made some positive moves in the wake of the West fertilizer plant explosion that killed at least 15 people in April, which is good because the state of Texas certainly wasn’t going to do anything:

Although it seems incongruous to say that anything good could come from such a tragedy, the fact is West has been the catalyst for a more systematic approach to chemical safety. An executive order from President Obama establishes a new Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group and creates a series of deadlines that a team of Cabinet members and agency heads must meet for updating best safety practices, data-sharing and emergency response. The first deadline is set for mid-September, when the team must develop a pilot program to determine best practices for agency collaboration. Other improvements include making sure that state and local governments better coordinate their emergency-response efforts. The final deadline, set for next spring, will create a unified federal approach for identifying and responding to potential dangers at chemical facilities. The directive calls for a specific evaluation on how to improve the handling of ammonium nitrate because it is so volatile. Although the U.S. chemical industry has regularly fought such efforts, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to issue an alert on the hazards of ammonium nitrate, its first since 1997.

West relied on an emergency plan that assumed there was no risk of an explosion. Texas regulators hadn’t inspected the fertilizer plant in five years. Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors had not been on site since 1985. That sort of inattention and unawareness is what the executive order seeks to prevent, in light of the fact that ammonium nitrate is stockpiled in hundreds of depots and warehouses around the country. They, too, are accidents waiting to happen.

It will be worth monitoring to see what this all leads over the next few years.

….Mike Elk noted to me that the Houston Chronicle claim about the plant not being inspected was not quite accurate and pointed me here for clarification.

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