Government pushes for increased plant safety

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WEST, Texas (NBC News) – Four months after the explosion in West, Texas, an intensive look at how high-risk chemicals are stored in the U.S. and how the government is informed.

From Capitol Hill to the Oval Office, officials are calling for improvements in the industry.

At a hearing on Capitol Hill, the fertilizer plant in West, Texas was described as a disaster waiting to happen.
The plant was storing 270-tons of ammonium nitrate.

That’s more than allowed under federal regulations and something the Department of Homeland Security was never informed of.

“We know that real people have paid a price,” said Congressman Patrick Meehan a republican from Pennsylvania.

15 people were killed and dozens of buildings in the small Texas town leveled in an explosion this past April.

Lawmakers worry there are thousands of facilities across the country in similar situations handling and storing high-risk chemicals without the knowledge of homeland security.

Many of the facilities are near homes and communities.

“Whether the harm is intentional or the result an accident, the effects are devastating,” said Meehan.

The hearing comes on the same day as an executive order from President Barack Obama tasking specific agencies to look at new ways of storing and securing ammonium nitrate.

In the order, Obama says chemicals are “essential to today’s economy” but that they are “not without risk.”
The president also calls for local, state, and federal authorities to work together more closely, a move the fertilizer institute supports.

“It’s sure going to help our retailers, many of them small businesses to best understand what they can do to be in compliance with the rules and to do the best they can for their communities,” said Kathy Mathers, Vice President of public affairs with the Fertilizer Institute.

Lessons learned from West, Texas, being used to prevent future tragedies.

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