House lawmakers charged with investigating what went wrong during the fertilizer plant explosion in the town of West, Texas heard from state officials this week that 46 “at-risk” chemical facilities similar to the one in West are still operating.
On April 17, 2013, a fertilizer plant exploded in West, killing 15 people, leveling much of the town and school district and causing $100 million in damage. The Texas House Committee for Homeland Security was tasked soon after that explosion to determine what went wrong and what plans need to be place to keep the same thing from happening at similar facilities.
“Any time you have a wood framed building there’s always a potential for a fire and these facilities it’s a very corrosive environment," said Texas Fire Marshal Chris Connealy. "Say you have insulation that’s being eaten away on electrical components, they’re using heavy equipment in there to take the product out to mix it and all those scenarios there’s an opportunity for a fire.”
Tom "Smitty" Smith with Public Citizen, a watchdog group, said very little progress is being made in order to safeguard residents living near these types of fertilizer plants.
“The underlying question of what kind of notice people get that there are toxic or explosive communities in their neighborhoods and what they should do if there is an accident is not really being discussed here,” Smith said.
Smith said with today’s modern technology residents should be able to get a tweet or text message warning them about the conditions at a nearby plant. He said if communities and businesses don’t take these safety measures seriously, it is far more expensive in the end.