Officials have yet to answer a lot of questions about the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, but one answer — “It wasn’t my job” — consistently emerges when local, state and federal officials are asked how their agencies might have intervened to prevent the disaster.
Officials from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Department of Public Safety, Office of the State Chemist and federal regulatory agencies seem to sidestep the question of responsibility whenever it comes to them. They had crucial information about explosive chemical stockpiles at West Fertilizer Co. but failed to share it. They knew of nearby residents’ exposure to severe danger but failed to raise concerns.
At TCEQ, authorities knew back in 2006 that 2,400 tons of ammonium nitrate were being processed annually at West Fertilizer. Asked whether the explosive threat should have been a concern, TCEQ Chairman Bryan W. Shaw said that wasn’t his agency’s job.
The Office of the State Chemist monitors facilities such as West Fertilizer with large stores of hazardous chemicals.
But the fire and explosive potential of such sites? “That doesn’t fall within our purview,” said Tim Herrman, head of the chemist’s office.
No amount of blame-passing will alleviate West residents’ catastrophic losses. The goal now, however, should be an honest reassessment of procedures so disasters like this don’t happen again.
It’s times like these when Texans should look to Gov. Rick Perry for leadership.
The Dallas Morning News