Could latest West investigation lead to safety inspections?


By Jeremy  Schwartz, American-Statesman Staff

The chair of a key Texas House committee said Friday that he would like lawmakers to look at giving the state Fire Marshal’s office the authority to conduct safety inspections at facilities that store potentially dangerous chemicals such as ammonium nitrate.

State Rep. Joe Pickett made his comments hours after Speaker Joe Straus ordered Pickett’s House Committee on Homeland and Security and Public Safety to “investigate” the deadly explosion at the West Fertilizer plant in April that killed 15. Officials have said the blast occurred after a fire caused about 30 tons of ammonium nitrate to catch fire.

While federal rules require ammonium nitrate to be stored in a separate building or set off behind a firewall, at West Fertilizer the chemical was stored in a wooden building with wooden wall between it and combustible seed. The plant also lacked a sprinkler system as required by national fire codes that were lacking at West.

Straus wants the committee to look at “deficiencies in safety, risk management, and disaster planning by chemical facilities and state entities” and “(d)etermine if any changes should be made to existing laws and rules relating to inspection, investigation, and enforcement.”

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