Explosion in West, Texas Highlights the Need for Proper Reporting of Potentially Hazardous Chemicals

Posted by Neno Duplan

As more information emerges regarding the devastating fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, more attention is being given to the importance of properly managing and reporting potentially dangerous chemicals. Almost three weeks after the tragic April 17 blast, the search for answers is still underway, but some facts have been brought to the surface.

One such fact is that the fertilizer plant was not registered with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is just one reason a U.S. Senator was sparked into action. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), a long-time advocate for improving safety at chemical plants, recently introduced a bill that would make it a crime for facilities to not report their on-site possession of dangerous chemicals, such as ammonium nitrate. The proposed legislation, “Protecting Communities from Chemical Explosions Act of 2013,” would also increase civil penalties, and fix a current loophole that limits the DHS’s ability to issue penalties.

“The chemical reporting laws on the books today are toothless and do little to help us protect communities from chemical explosions,” Lautenberg said. “Facilities that break the reporting rules today essentially get away with just a warning, so my legislation would stiffen penalties and make it a federal crime for plants to intentionally keep their possession of dangerous chemicals a secret.”

As opposed to keeping this a secret, an opportunity exists for U.S. regulators and similar plants to get out in front of the crisis and become as transparent as possible about managing compliance, waste, chemical, and environmental data. One way of accomplishing this transparency is to manage and store all relevant data in a centralized, web-based system; making the information easily accessible to all stakeholders, including regulators and the public.

Implementing a comprehensive monitoring and reporting system integrated across different regulatory frameworks, and eliminating the use of disjointed silo systems and spreadsheets, is one way of addressing this problem of reporting chemicals that has recently been brought to light.

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