Wednesday, April 24, 2013

West Texas Plant Explosion: Too early to assign blame

The explosion at the chemical plant is West, Texas last week is still under investigation and as of this posting, no true cause of the explosion has been reported.
Until that time when the cause of the explosion is reported, I will not speculate on who is, or is not at fault.
But, what is happening, is that the media are all looking for anything to report on this tragedy, and they seem to have landed on the failure of the plant to properly report exact chemical amounts, security measures in place at the facility, and emergency plans concerning terrorist attack to the Department of Homeland Security under the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS).
CFATS is not a safety program designed to make plant operations or material handling safe.  It is a program designed to allow DHS to understand threats to the security of the United States.  It is designed to allow DHS to assist chemical manufacturers, suppliers, and storage facilities to mitigate the possibility of terrorist attack.  
In fact, congressional hearing on CFATS has shown there are significant problems with the program.  And I would venture to say that a small chemical manufacturing plant located in a community of under 10,000 people was even on DHS radar as a potential terrorist target.
What the press should be asking is did the company report it's chemical quantities correctly under the Environmental Protection Agency's EPCRA reporting system.  This is the system in which local fire and public safety agencies are made aware of chemical risk.
The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) of 1986 (EPCRA) was created to help communities plan for emergencies involving hazardous substances. The Act establishes requirements for federal, state and local governments, Indian tribes, and industry regarding emergency planning and "Community Right-to-Know" reporting on hazardous and toxic chemicals. The Community Right-to-Know provisions help increase the public's knowledge and access to information on chemicals at individual facilities, their uses, and releases into the environment. States and communities, working with facilities, can use the information to improve chemical safety and protect public health and the environment.
There are four major provisions of EPCRA:
  • Emergency Planning (Sections 301 — 303)
  • Emergency Release Notification (Section 304)
  • Hazardous Chemical Storage Reporting (Sections 311 — 312)
  • Toxic Chemical Release Inventory (Section 313)
If they met EPCRA standards, then the reporting should be considered adequate.  As far as I know, there has been no reporting that the plant explosion was a terrorist attack.

So, in reality, no one knows what caused the explosion at this time.  I will wait for that cause to be be declared before I rush to issue judgement.  I like everyone else in the United States benefits greatly from our chemical industry.  Without today's modern chemicals, our country and world would not be as safe, healthy, or prosperous as we are.

Of course, there are risk associated with everything we do or own in our lives.  Just being born exposes one to risk.  

It is for this reason that everyone should take a deep breath and wait for the outcome of the investigation of the cause of the explosion.  And be ready to hear that a human made a mistake that cost the lives of many people.  It is not the first time, nor will it be the last.  

The only thing we can do is look at the cause, see if there are steps than can be taken to prevent the cause, and implement them.  But we cannot chastise a whole industry or set of existing safety rules based on the information we now have.

PS.  Texas industry is required to follow EPA and DHS regulations.  No state or city has much control over the rules and regulations that the EPA or DHS has in place.  Federal regulations preempt state laws in the majority of cases regarding chemical manufacturing, storage, handling, and transportation. So those of you wishing to blame Texas, not this time.


  1. I believe that this was an "Accident",,, not an "On Purpose". Tragic none the less...

  2. Tom, I thought you said you were going to withhold blame on who might have been responsible. Already you're excusing the "entire industry" and already you're excusing Texas. Plus, you're already blaming a person "be ready to hear that a human made a mistake". The point is, that it looks like you're actually waiting for the inspection to be complete. You seem to have made up your mind to a certain extent.

    1. I blamed no one. I said, be ready. That does not mean I am blaming anyone.

      And I gave no one in the industry a pass. All I did was explain the difference between the DHS and EPA recording requirements. And that we all use chemicals for the betterment of our lives. Those are just facts.

      Again, the media is making a big deal out of the DHS data. It is not a big deal as far as the cause of the explosion.

      And there are those that are already blaming Texas and Gov. Perry for the explosion because Perry touts Texas as being business friendly by not over regulating businesses. Again, not my words but the words from liberal groups.

      If anyone is making an assumption, it is you believing that I am going to excuse the chemical company no matter what.

    2. By the way, Texas has few if any workplace regulations. If you know of some, let me know. Most states do not. The OSHA, EPA, and other federal regulators for specific industry's set the workplace regulations.

      Done so there is continuity among manufacturing, transportation and distribution companies.

  3. regarding above: I meant "It looks like you're actually NOT waiting for the inspection to be complete". Thanks

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