One Year Later: Calls for Common Sense Oversight in the Wake of West Tragedy Go Unanswered

Source: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Source: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

This past Thursday marked one year since a fire caused a fertilizer plant in the town of West, Texas to explode, killing 15 people, injuring over 300, and scaring a small Texas town forever. Since the West tragedy shocked Texas and the nation, it has become increasingly clear that the explosion could have been prevented had common-sense regulations—like a statewide fire code—been in place. Nevertheless, Texas leaders and state officials have failed to propose, much less adopt, a single common sense safeguard to prevent future tragedies. The anniversary of the West explosion reminds us of the urgent need for proactive measures to prevent a disaster of this magnitude from happening again.

Even before the West explosion, there were a string of industrial accidents across the state over recent years, reminding us that Texas should be doing a better job at managing the industrial sector.

  • BP Refinery in Texas City – 2011

In November 2011, there were reports of gas leaks at a BP refinery in Texas City; the odor was so potent 30 workers from a neighboring plant downwind were taken to the hospital.

  • Magnablend Chemical Plant Fire – 2011

A fire broke out at Magnablend, Inc. in Waxahachie, Texas, caused by the blending of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluid. This led to the evacuation of an apartment complex, an elementary school, a junior college, and nearly 1,000 residents who lived close to the chemical plant.

  • Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill – 2010

By far, the most horrific pollution incident over the last decade, where a fire burned for 36 hours before the oil rig sank. Eleven people died and 17 were injured from the explosion.

  • American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) – 2009

A Center for Disease Control study found over half of the children living within a mile of the smelter had levels of lead in their blood four times the limit considered acceptable by the Environmental Protection Agency.

  • BP Refinery in Texas City – 2005

On March 23, 2005, an explosion killed 15 employees and injured 170 as a result of risky working conditions.

While not every disaster can be prevented, it seems reasonable to think that some simple, common sense measures should be adopted to ensure that the lives lost in the West explosion (and the over 400 other industrial fatalities that happen each year in this state) were not lost in vain.

Common sense safeguards:

  • Implement a statewide fire code
  • Increase the number of inspections at facilities
  • Enforce meaningful penalties when facilities don’t follow the rules
  • Create more safety rules regarding storage of risky chemicals
  • Implement siting criteria of facilities
  • Increase training opportunities for emergency responders

EDF calls upon state leaders and agency officials to stop finger pointing and to assess how we can use the lessons learned in West to prevent future disasters and save lives. I hope that one year from now, on the second anniversary of the tragedy, we will be a little closer to living in a state where preventable industrial accidents like the West explosion are a thing of the past.

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