The U.S. Chemical Safety Board shared preliminary findings from their investigation of the West Fertilizer Plant Thursday with U.S. senators. The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works focused on who should be responsible for not reinforcing or updating the laws in place.
"The EPA can strengthen safety at facilities that handle dangerous chemicals under existing law. They have the power, the authority and indeed the responsibility to do it," U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, chairwoman of the committee, said.
She echoed the message over and over again. There is no need for new laws, just action.
"Lives are at stake and action must be taken now," Boxer said. "Not tomorrow, not down the road, we don't need new legislation for a lot of this. We can do it now."
Boxer's message came after the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) discovered several problems when investigating the West Fertilizer Plant. The CSB said improper storage of ammonium nitrate, the lack of a sprinkler system and the fact that Texas doesn't have a statewide fire code are just some of the many problems that could have been solved to prevent the explosion in West.
The board's frustration with the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) lack of urgency boiled over during Thursday's hearing, especially when they questioned the EPA for failing to adopt recommendations from the CSB in 2002.
The EPA says they do have a Risk Management Program in place and warnings concerning ammonium nitrate that have been placed on their web site since 1997. But the board claims those warnings were never updated and shared with the town of West that could have prevented the death of 15 people and the destruction of a town.
"That was the most vague testimony I have ever heard. You didn't talk about what happened in my state, you didn't talk about what happened in West, you didn't talk about what happen in Louisiana," Boxer said. "I don't sense in your voice any type of shock or desire to use your authority to move forward."
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