Chemical Explosion Investigations Slow: Officials Question Slow Chemical Safety Board Investigations
In the wake of the explosion at the West Fertilizer plant that killed 15 people and caused major damage to large swaths of that small town, all eyes are on the various investigations into the tragedy. Such investigations will go a long way toward bringing justice to the people of West, and render guidance with regard to handling such chemicals as anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate, going forward. One of the key investigations will come from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.
An independent agency modeled after the National Transportation Safety Board, the Chemical Safety Board is supposed to conduct thorough investigations of accidents involving chemicals and make recommendations with regard to safety. Unfortunately, there are signs that the agency’s investigations are becoming bogged down and are so slow that constructive recommendations have become hard to come by under the present process.
For example, in April 2010, an explosion at the oil refinery in Washington State killed seven workers, and 18 days later, an explosion at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and resulted in the largest oil spill in U.S. history. The Chemical Safety Board began investigating both immediately, but more than three years later, both investigations are still open.
According to a recent study, the number of Board accident reports, case studies and safety bulletins has dropped sharply since 2006. There are currently 13 incomplete investigations, including on that is in its sixth year of investigation. This lack of focus and results is causing a lot of people to take notice. Congress has begun asking questions, and the inspector general for the Environmental Protection Agency is auditing the board’s investigative process.
The Board wasn’t always this slow. The worst accident the Board had to investigate to date was an explosion at the Texas City BP oil refinery in March 2005. In that one, 15 people were killed and180 injured. In that case, the board issued a final report in less than two years. Their final report on an explosion at a Savanah, Georgia sugar factory in 2008 was issued within 19 months.
The current sluggishness in production can’t be explained by a lack of manpower or budget cuts. The agency currently has 20 investigators, which is 25% more than the 16 it had in 2008, and it’s budget has essentially been flat since then, as well.
Whatever the reason for the reduction in productivity by the Chemical Safety Board, the people of West and other victims of these tragedies deserve answers, and they shouldn’t have to wait five years or more for them. Just as importantly, the Board should make recommendations that might prevent another West Fertilizer from happening again. If you have questions regarding this post, contact Hill Law Firm today.