WASHINGTON (June 6, 2014) The Interagency Working Group on Chemical Facility Safety and Security, which President Barack Obama formed after the deadly April 17 fertilizer plant explosion in West, issued a sweeping 193-page report Friday that lists thousands of chemical facilities that use or store hazardous chemicals, including 20 in Central Texas, and makes recommendations for preventing future chemical disasters.
The report found that 134 million Americans live within one or more vulnerability zones of 3,433 facilities that use of store highly hazardous chemicals and that 3.8 million live within zones closest to potential disasters.
Twenty of those facilities are in Central Texas and tens of thousands of people live within their vulnerability zones, the report says.
Most of the Central Texas facilities identified in the report are water treatment or storage plants that have supplies of chlorine, but a tank car facility in Hearne that has supplies of bromine, which is toxic and can cause burns, has a vulnerability zone of 25 miles within which an estimated 170,000 people live, the report says.
The report calls for overhauling and strengthening the regulatory system that oversees chemical security and safety to “harmonize the regulatory programs currently in place, and eliminate loopholes and weaknesses.”
It notes that no rule or law was in place prohibiting the conditions in place at West Fertilizer Co. that contributed to the explosion that killed 15, injured more than 200 and damaged or destroyed scores of buildings.
“These conditions include flammable wooden storage bins, lack of fire-suppression sprinkler systems and use of conventional detonable forms of ammonium nitrate,” the report says.
“Federal agencies should immediately and comprehensively review chemical security and safety requirements to ensure that their coverage is complete and that the programs complement and reinforce each other,” the report said.
The report also calls for wider distribution of information about chemical hazards and alternatives to ensure that workers, communities and government at all levels are adequately informed; requiring companies to document whether safer chemicals or processes could be used to remove hazards; developing accessible federal data on alternatives based on the assessments; requiring companies to convert to safer alternatives when possible, and ending “government policies that subsidize danger” and ensuring “that patchwork chemical safety and security requirements are complete, comprehensive, up to date and mutually reinforcing.”