Texas will now require facilities that hold ammonium nitrate to meet new requirements, in a move legislators believe will prevent events like the deadly explosion in the city of West 2 years ago.
On Monday, Governor Gregg Abbott signed into law House Bill 942, which among other things bars facilities from storing ammonium nitrate with any non-fertilizer materials and requires that ammonium nitrate be stored at least 30 feet away from combustible materials.
West Mayor Tommy Muska says the legislation goes along way, but it’s not as preventative as it could be.
“The only way to be 100 percent is for the product to be manufactured differently so it’s not explosive," Muska said.
Since the April 17 explosion at the West Fertilizer Co., that left 15 dead and injured hundreds more, several pieces of legislation have been introduced, but they gained little traction under a legislature that’s largely conservative and anti-regulatory. However, HB 942, according to its sponsor Senator Brian Birdwell, a Republican from Grandbury, doesn’t overreach.
“To be clear this is not a new regulatory scheme," Birdwell said during the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development earlier last month. "HB 942 simply codifies existing regulations regarding reporting of hazardous chemicals. These are existing regulations which 100 percent of ammonium nitrate storage facilities in this state are currently required to be, with which they have to be compliant."
The bill, authored by Kyle Kacal,R-College Station, moves regulation from department of State Health Services to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. It also allows the state fire marshal to inspect facilities, gives local fire departments access to the facility to perform a pre-fire planning assessment and requires any hazardous conditions to be corrected within 10 days. Muska, who testified during the senate committee in favor of the bill, believes that the next step is to create communication between inspectors and manufacturers
"Without that cooperation between the manufacturers and the state and the inspectors then you might as well have a blind person inspecting these plants cause they don’t know, the people that know this product are the people that make this product," Muska said.