The West Fertilizer Company facility that exploded in a deadly blast April 17 had not been inspected by OSHA in at least 10 years, according to advocacy group Public Citizen, which said too many similar facilities operate “with very little oversight” from regulatory agencies.
The BlueGreen Alliance of environmental and labor organizations agreed, calling the lapse a “stunning indictment” of OSHA’s underfunding, and calculates that the agency only has the resources to inspect each of America’s workplaces once every 26 to 243 years, depending upon the state.
The explosion caused massive destruction in the small town of West, Texas, killing 14 people and injuring 200 more. Many buildings within a six-block radius of the plant were leveled. An apartment complex near the plant had its windows blown out and roof collapsed. Damage to a nursing home forced the evacuation of dozens of elderly residents.
Sources say the ATF is preparing to enter the crater left by the explosion within the next few days to investigate the cause of the blast.
Volunteer firefighters killed
The AP is reporting that the explosion killed ten first responders - many of them volunteer firefighters -- who rushed to the facility to battle a fire that preceded the explosion. The blast was so powerful it could be heard miles away and registered as a small earthquake with the U.S. Geological Service.
Public Citizen said records show that in the past five years, only two Texas facilities in the same classification – that produce fertilizer using ammonia – have been inspected by OSHA. “The agency’s budget is similar to what it was several decades ago, but the size of the economy – and the number and complexity of workplaces to inspect – has grown tremendously.”
The BlueGreen Alliance called for redoubling efforts to enforce laws that protect workers and communities.