Texas fertilizer plant cited for safety lapses

DINA CAPPIELLO, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal safety inspectors cited the company in Texas that operated a fertilizer plant where a thunderous explosion in April killed 15 people with 24 serious safety violations and proposed a $118,300 fine, the government said Thursday. A company spokesman said the alleged violations appeared unrelated to the accident.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said West Fertilizer Co. committed violations that included unsafe handling and storage of two fertilizers, anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate. It also cited the company for failure to have an emergency response plan, respiratory protection or appropriate fire extinguishers.

The Labor Department issued the citations Wednesday. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., disclosed them Thursday because most of the Labor Department is closed due to the government shutdown, and the agency and the company quickly confirmed them.

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The magnitude of the April blast at West Fertilizer knocked out windows and rooftops all over the tiny town of West, Texas, and registered as a small earthquake. Blast victims included 10 first responders and two others who volunteered, and debris spread as far as two miles away.

Dan Keeney, a spokesman for the West Fertilizer Co., said the company’s lawyers were reviewing the citations and proposed fine.

“Based on what they see so far, it doesn’t appear that the violations that are alleged have anything to do with the accident, but they’re still reviewing it,” he said.

The company has 15 days to pay the fine or file an administrative appeal with OSHA.

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Boxer said that despite the government shutdown, word of the citations needed to get out to prevent similar incidents.

“All of these things that they are cited for are pretty much standard operating procedure with how you deal with these chemicals,” Boxer told reporters in a media conference call.


Associated Press writers Sam Hananel in Washington and Ramit Plushnick-Masti in Houston contributed to this report.