WASHINGTON — Federal authorities have cited the operator of the West, Texas, fertilizer plant that exploded in April for 24 safety violations including the unsafe handling and storage of chemicals, and have proposed $118,300 in penalties.
In the meantime, a broader investigation into the cause of the April 17 blast that killed 15 people and injured more than 160 others has been put on hold as a result of the government shutdown.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, announced the Occupational Health and Safety Administration citations on Thursday against Adair Grain Inc., which operated West Fertilizer Co.
Boxer said the fines should serve as a warning to other plant operators to follow safety rules.
Company owner Donald Adair declined to comment on the fines but told the Los Angeles Times he was out of business. "I’m busted,’’ he said.
Daniel Keeney, spokesman for West Fertilizer Co., said attorneys were reviewing the OSHA citations but that, "based on their initial review, they don’t believe that any of the allegations had anything to do’’ with the explosion.
OSHA said it issued the violations for "exposing workers to fire/explosion hazards of ammonium nitrate and chemical burns and inhalation hazards from anhydrous ammonia storage and servicing.’’ The violations, among others, involve "unsafe handling and storage’’ of anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate and failing to have an emergency response plan and appropriate fire extinguishers.
OSHA had not inspected the West Fertilizer Co. plant since 1985.
Boxer said the agency could use more inspectors, but suggested that idea would probably run into resistance from regulatory-wary members of the Texas congressional delegation.
"Talk to your Texas delegation,’’ she told a Texas reporter. "I don’t think they’re ready to spend more for cops on the beat.’’
The citations come as the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has suspended its investigation of the blast because of the government shutdown, now in its 10th day. The board, which investigates industrial accidents, has furloughed 37 of its 41 employees.
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