The small town of West, Texas will never be the same after April 17, 2013, when the community was deeply shaken by a powerful explosion at the West Fertilizer Company storage and distribution facility that killed fifteen people and injured more than 160. Investigators found that the explosion was caused by improperly stored Ammonium Nitrate.
In response, President Obama issued Executive Order 13650 Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security in August of 2013. The order asks the Tri-Chairs of the Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group (the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Labor, and the Environmental Protection Agency), to work closely together to improve the of safety and security of chemical facilities across the country. The chairs have worked diligently over the past two years on the following areas:
- Strengthening community planning and preparedness;
- Enhancing federal operation coordination;
- Improving data management;
- Modernizing policies and regulations; and
- Incorporating stakeholder feedback and developing best practices.
The working group knows that stakeholders are essential to managing and mitigating the risks of potential chemical facility hazards and has engaged in a robust stakeholder outreach effort to identify successes and best practices. This outreach included engagement across all levels of government, with owners and operators, industry associations, labor organizations, and communities affected by chemical plant disasters.
One year ago, the working group released a status report to the president, entitled Actions to Improve Chemical Facility Safety and Security – A Shared Commitment, which summarized the Working Group’s actions, findings and lessons learned, challenges, and short and long-term priority actions to that point. Last year’s status report was a milestone, not an end-point.
Today we are releasing another update to highlight actions that have been taken since the release of the Final Status Report last year. These highlights include:
- Developing an on-line training module on the key requirements under Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA);
- Initiating a multi-organization working group to identify a list of government approved training courses for first responders and emergency planners, Training Repository;
- Institutionalizing a Federal Working Group to improve communication and coordination between agencies;
- Establishing Regional Working Groups in all ten Federal Regions;
- Incorporating chemical facility safety and security data into the EPA’s facility registry service (FRS);
- Reissuing the Chemical Advisory: Safe Storage, Handling, and management of Ammonium Nitrate to incorporate stakeholder comments and concerns and the latest practices in ammonium nitrate safety;
- Hosted a public webinar to share updates on EO activities taken in November 2014 with the next webinar planned for June 19, 2015; and
- Launching actions to modernize OSHA’s Process Safety Management Standard and EPA’s Risk Management Program.
Safety and security are a shared commitment. We are committed to preventing more incidents like those in West, Texas, and ensuring that every worker comes home to their family safe and healthy at the end of every shift.
About the authors:
Mathy Stanislaus is the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response at EPA.
Caitlin Durkovich is the Assistant Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security National Protection and Programs Directorate, Office of Infrastructure Protection.
David Michaels is Assistant Secretary at the Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration.