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One Year After West Fertilizer Explosion, Will Politicians Get Behind Safety Reforms?

Posted By Arnold & Itkin LLP || 23-Apr-2014

It has been one year since the tragic chemical explosion that claimed the lives of 15 people and injured hundreds more at the West Fertilizer plant in the small town of West, Texas. Now, federal agencies are finally beginning the process of taking precautionary measures against similar events taking place in the future.

Senator Barbara Boxer is the chairperson of the Senate environment and public works committee. On the one-year anniversary of the West Fertilizer explosion, she made a statement reiterating the need for new prevention standards and issued a call to action.

"As we remember the devastating chemical explosion that happened one year ago in West, Texas, we must not forget that more needs to be done to prevent similar tragedies from occurring," she said in a statement quoted by The Dallas Morning News.

Will much-needed reforms to the current system actually be initiated, however? Some analysts are skeptical.

On a positive note: Gina McCarthy —Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator — named chemical safety as among the agency's top priorities for the year 2015 during hearings before the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees in April. It was discouraging, however, that no committee members from either the Republican or the Democrat side pressed the issue. While some asked questions about issues unique to their constituencies and others raised questions about laws affecting air quality and pollution or cuts in grant money for local sewer and water supply plans, no one raised the issue of chemical emergency prevention or preparation.

Some of the issues identified in the West Fertilizer explosion include insufficient technical support, poor data sharing, and lack of communication and resources for emergency workers at both the state and local levels. These are all addressed in the chemical safety initiate proposed by the EPA, which includes a request for $23 million and 24 full-time positions.

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