Department of Homeland Security Holds Hearing On West Explosion

Posted at 5:42 PM, Aug 01, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-01 18:42:36-04

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security faced questioning in Washington D.C. from a House Homeland Security subcommittee over the West fertilizer plant explosion.

Also discussed at the hearing were the ways in which dangerous chemicals across the country are being managed and stored.

Those officials also acknowledged that it wasn't until after the explosion in West that they even knew the fertilizer plant existed.

They were also asked about their knowledge of potentially thousands more unreported outlier facilities across the country just like the one in West.

Many of those outlier facilities are believed to contain hazardous chemicals like the ammonium nitrate that led to the deadly explosion in West this past April that claimed the lives of 12 first responders, injured hundreds more, and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage.

Subcommittee chairman Patrick Meehan questioned DHS officials asking them how facilities like the one in West and the chemicals they contain could go unreported and what is now being done to fix this problem.

"The report has come," Meehan said. "30 tons of ammonium nitrate were there, and yet DHS had no knowledge of the facility. They'd never even heard of West fertilizer before the tragic event, so how have we gotten to the point where there's literally thousands of chemical facilities like West throughout the country that DHS is not aware of?"

DHS representative David Wulf said that it's up to each individual facility to report whatever they're storing. He also said that they are trying to determine which federal agencies have jurisdiction over which facilities and how they can all better share data relating to those facilities.

"What we're doing with the EPA and what we'll be looking to do with OSHA is to share our respective databases so that if there is a facility known to one of us and not the other, we will be cognizant of that and ensure that we will work with the facility to bring it into compliance with the appropriate regulatory framework," Wulf said.

DHSA also argued that even when facilities do report their contents, it often times can take up to a year or longer for them to be inspected to make sure they are up to proper safety standards.

President Obama said that incidents like the one in West are tragic reminders of how issues regarding the handling and storage of dangerous chemicals have to be addressed.

He then signed an executive order aimed at improving safety and security standards for facilities that will help reduce the risks associated with those hazardous chemicals.