Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), outlined her plan for the safer storage of ammonium nitrate Tuesday following the deadly explosion in the town of West, Texas.
Fifteen people were killed, including a dozen first responders, when a fertilizer plant caught fire and exploded in April.
The steps Boxer outlined to make the storage of the volatile chemical safer were as follows:
- Calling for every state governor to review applicable policies to ensure the safe storage of ammonium nitrate.
- Asked the EPA to act, without delay, to update its alert on ammonium nitrate, which was last updated in 1997.
- Asked the EPA to look at its risk management planning requirements, because ammonium nitrate has not been added to those plans. Also, mandate that ammonium nitrate be stored under safe conditions.
- Senate EPW Committee will hold another hearing this fall, in September or October, to keep the focus on EPAs actions.
"I made a pledge to the families and I'm not going to stop until there are more protections in place to prevent chemical disasters like the one in West, Texas," Boxer said at the news conference at the Texas capitol building. "There's a lot of things we can't control, you all know that, you can't control a lot of things. We can control this. You have the information, you know what has to be done and it has to be stored in a separate facility when it's present in such large quantities, and be protected from fire, and then people will be protected. It's not rocket science here."
One of the delays in action by the EPA has to do with the confirmation of Gina McCarthy as the head of the EPA, who was nominated to the post by President Barack Obama several months ago but has not been confirmed by Republican senators.
Boxer said the EPW needs someone at the EPA to work with on the issue and hoped a vote would come on McCarthy's appointment next week.
After the news conference, the EPA issued the following statement:
It is imperative that chemical plant risks be reduced to the greatest extent possible to avoid tragedies such as those that took place in West, Texas and Geismar, Louisiana. EPA is actively examining existing legal authorities and policies to improve chemical plant safety. EPA is reviewing the 1997 alert to determine any necessary updates for the safe management and storage of ammonium nitrate. We are working with other federal, state and local agencies to explore potential adjustments to reduce risk from chemical substances. EPA intends to work closely with Senator Boxer as well as state and local authorities in order to seek stronger protections to safeguard public health.
We are committed to focus on supporting local responders, further efforts by the federal government to advance additional chemical plant safety measures, and standardizing the best practices of industry leaders.