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Senator Relays Deadly Explosion Fines

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

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The company that owns a Texas fertilizer plant where 15 people were killed in an April explosion has been hit with $118,300 in proposed penalties and two dozen alleged safety violations, officials announced.

The partial government shutdown has delayed investigations of the explosion, including a report due from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued 24 serious violations on Oct. 9, but they were not announced until the following day, when Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who chairs the Senate's Committee on Environment and Public Works, disclosed them during a conference call with reporters.

West Fertilizer explosion
U.S. Chemical Safety Board

West Fertilizer Co. has been cited for 24 alleged safety violations stemming from the deadly April explosion in Texas. The partial government shutdown has delayed an investigation and report due from the Chemical Safety Board.

Adair Grain Inc., doing business as West Fertilizer Co., owned the ammonium nitrate fertilizer storage facility that blew up April 17, in the town of West, TX, killing 15 people, most of which were volunteer emergency responders. The explosion also injured more than 160 people and destroyed or damaged scores of homes and other structures.

Shutdown Affects Investigation

The alleged violations included unsafe handling of anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate and failure to have an emergency response plan.

Boxer said she announced the fines because the statute of limitations on filing violations was approaching and could run out before the government shut down ends, Reuters reported.

The CSB kept only three of its 40 employees during the government shutdown, suspending all current investigations and preventing federal employees from investigating industrial chemical spills and accidents that happen during the shutdown. About 90 percent of OSHA's employees are currently furloughed.

"Based on initial review, it doesn't appear that any of these violations had anything that has to do with what happened in April," Daniel Keeney, spokesman for the company, told Reuters.

Keeney said that attorneys are still reviewing the alleged violations.

The company's owner, Donald Adair, told the Los Angeles Times that he was out of business. "I'm busted," he said.

A call to the company's listed phone number went unanswered on Monday (Oct. 14).

Sen. Barbara Boxer

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) announced the OSHA citations against West Fertilizer Co. because the statute of limitations on announcing violations was approaching.

OSHA had not inspected the facility since the early 80s.

Prompted by the explosion, President Obama issued an executive order on Aug. 1, directing several agencies to work cooperatively to expand efforts to make sure chemical facilities are operating safely and asking for a list of potential regulatory and legislative proposals to improve storage, handling and sales of ammonium nitrate within 90 days.

24 Serious Citations

The serious violations, those that OSHA says exist when a workplace hazard could cause an accident or illness that would most likely result in death or serious harm, are listed below.

  • Exposing employees to hazards of liquid ammonia and inhalation of ammonia vapor from leaking or failed ammonia systems ($7,000);
  • Not having suitable ventilation or self-ventilation where ammonium nitrate was stored and handled ($7,000);
  • Walls were not fire resistant rated ($7,000);
  • Flooring was not without a pit for the bucket conveyor leg into which molten ammonium nitrate could flow ($7,000);
  • Not ensuring that the ammonium nitrate storage structure was made of noncombustible material or that facilities for fighting a roof fire were available ($7,000);
  • Wooden bins were not treated to prevent impregnation by ammonium nitrate ($7,000);
  • Height or depth of ammonium nitrate piles were not determined by pressure setting tendencies ($7,000);
  • Flammable and combustible materials were stored in the same room as ammonium nitrate ($7,000);
  • Water supplies and fire hydrants were not available "in accordance with recognized good practice" ($7,000);
  • System nameplates were not permanently attached ($3,500);
  • Anhydrous ammonia storage/service tanks were not labeled ($2,100);
  • Hose assemblies did not withstand a test pressure of at least 500 p.s.i.g. ($4,900);
  • Safety relief devices for storage tanks were not rated correctly ($3,500);
  • Compressors and liquid and vapor filling/service lines did not have back pressure check valves and/or excess flow valves installed ($4,900);
  • Main piping and valves were not protected from being struck by vehicles and other equipment in the area ($3,500);
  • Not having an emergency response plan ($3,500);
  • Not implementing a written respiratory protection program or providing a medical evaluation or fit tests for employees wearing respirators ($3,500);
  • Not determining permit required confined spaces ($3,500);
  • Not establishing an energy control program for equipment ($4,900);
  • Not providing the type of fire extinguishers for materials stored in the plant ($2,100);
  • Not certifying that each operator was trained ($3,500);
  • Forklift trucks were not inspected ($3,500);
  • Electrical equipment was not free from hazards ($4,900); and
  • Not implementing a written hazard communication program for employees working with chemicals ($3,500).

The company has 15 business days from receiving the citations to contest them.


Tagged categories: Enforcement; Explosions; Government; OSHA; U.S. Chemical Safety Board; Violations

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