Steve McGraw, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), told members of the Texas legislature that responsibility for informing residents about the chemical hazards in their communities—-such as at the fertilizer plant in West, Texas—-falls to local officials. The Dallas Morning-News‘ Brandon Formby reports from the first public hearing to examine the circumstances that led to the catastrophic April 17 explosion. The inquiry was held by the Texas Legislature’s House Committee on Homeland Security & Public Safety.
“It’s a local up,” DPS Director Steve McCraw said during a legislative hearing in Austin. “It’s not a state down.”
The State DPS officials also noted that local fire marshals are charged with inspecting fertilizer plants, but as the Houston Chronicle’s report from the same hearing explains,
West, Texas depended on a volunteer fire department, [it] did not have a fire marshal.
According to Jeremy Schwartz of the Austin American-Statesman, one State official said there are 41 facilities in Texas that blend large amounts of ammonium nitrate. He added:
“It became clear during the two-hour hearing that no state agency—eight testified at the hearing—- is charged with specifically regulating safety at chemical plants. Rather, state agencies focus on air emissions, fertilizer quality and preventing theft.”
The chairman of the Committee, State Rep. Joe Pickett (D-El Paso) noted that “lawmakers have been inundated with questions from constituents in the blast’s aftermath.” He also predicted that the magnitude of the disaster deserves national attention to ensure communities are protected from chemical hazards. U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, announced that she intends to hold a hearing to look into the West Fertilizer disaster. The Senator’s announcement said:
“We must ensure that facilities like the one in West are complying with chemical safety laws. We will look at how the laws on the books are being enforced and whether there is a need to strengthen them.”
As the official investigations proceed, I hope we learn more about whether all the responsibility fell just “to the locals.”