West fertilizer plant to be fined for safety violations

Emergency workers patrol the scene Saturday, April 20, 2013, three days after an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. The massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. Wednesday night killed at least 14 people and injured more than 160. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)


West Fertilizer Plant Timeline

By Paula Ann Solis
Staff Writer

West Fertilizer Co., the West plant where an explosion took place in April leaving 15 people dead and more than 100 homes destroyed, was fined $118,300 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for 24 safety violations, said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

OSHA had not inspected the plant in more than 30 years. The findings of their latest investigation, according to Boxer, were failure to have an emergency response plan, unsafe handling and storage of anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate, inadequate labeling of storage tanks, failing to pressure test replacement hoses and not having respiratory protection or appropriate fire extinguishers.

“All of these things that they are cited for are pretty much standard operating procedure with how you deal with these chemicals,” Boxer said.
OSHA was not available to comment because of the government shutdown.

According to Boxer, who also chairs the Committee on Environment and Public Works, said the citation was issuedWednesday but because of the government shutdown it would not be announced so Boxer took it upon herself to announce the findings in a conference call with reporters Thursday morning. She said she wanted the news out as soon as possible to prevent similar incidents.

West Fertilzer Co., has 15 days to pay the fine or appeal with OSHA. Dan Keeny, spokesman for the plant, said lawyers are currently reviewing the fine and said the violations do not seem to be related to the explosion in April.

West mayor Tommy Muska said the fine is inadequate and he said he blames OSHA for not inspecting the plant as often as they should.

“We can be Monday morning quarterbacks all year long, but what we really need to do is try to prevent this,” he said.

A criminal investigation is still ongoing for the West plant to decipher if the cause of the explosion was a problem with the plant’s electrical systems, a battery-powered golf cart, or if it was a criminal act.

At a press conference Oct. 3, board members of the Long-Term Recovery Center announced they were beginning to disperse their $3.5 million fund to those affected by the blast.

Board member Ronnie Sykora said the committee estimates the needs of the community are somewhere near $30 million.

Assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is still been present in the town, Muska said after the press conference last week.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.