Web Date: October 11, 2013
Fines Proposed For Fertilizer Tragedy
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration has cited a West, Texas, fertilizer company with 24 safety violations springing from an April 17 explosion that killed 15 people and flattened much of the town.
Adair Grain Inc., the owner of West Fertilizer Co., could face fines up to $118,300 under the law. The fertilizer firm is a retail agricultural supply store and warehouse, similar to 6,000 other firms spread throughout U.S. farm communities (C&EN, April 22, page 8).
The notice of violation was publicly released on Oct. 10 by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the day after it was issued by OSHA. The violation notice was not made public, Boxer said, because the agency is closed as part of the federal government shutdown.
“So I’m stepping in here so as a result of my telling you these things, another explosion could be prevented,” Boxer said.
Boxer, who is chair of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, noted that OSHA calls the violations “serious.” She added that although the fines as set by law for these safety violations are low, she expects the amounts to grow as other federal and state agencies examining the accident complete their investigations. The company has the option of challenging the violations in court.
According to Boxer, OSHA cited facility operations at West that exposed workers to fire and explosion hazards from ammonium nitrate and to chemical burn and inhalation hazards from anhydrous ammonia storage and servicing. Specifically, the violations involve unsafe handling and storage of anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate, as well as many shortcomings related to labeling and inadequate piping and valves. The violations also involve a lack of worker safety equipment and training. OSHA said the company failed to have an emergency response plan for accidents.
An Environment & Public Works Committee hearing in June revealed a host of safety problems at the retail facility as well as a patchwork of U.S., state, and local safety regulations. Most of these regulations were inadequate or were ignored by the regulators and the company. For instance, OSHA’s last inspection of the facility was in 1985 (C&EN, July 15, page 21).
The hearing found that no regulations directly cover retail facilities like West and some 6,000 similar U.S. businesses that store and sell ammonium nitrate, despite a century-long history of tragic ammonium nitrate-related accidents all over the world.
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