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Regulators Faulted by Boxer for Lax Chemicals Oversight

July 9 (Bloomberg) -- Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer, citing lax oversight, urged regulators and states to do more to curb threats caused by poor storage of ammonium nitrate in the wake of April’s deadly explosion in Texas.

Boxer said today the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration failed to do enough to prevent further risks to the public. The April 17 blast at the Adair Grain Inc. fertilizer facility in West, Texas, killed 14 people, caused more than $100 million in damage and sparked debate over chemical-safety rules.

“We have to act to ensure more families don’t suffer the loss of a loved one in another chemical disaster,” Boxer, a California Democrat, said at a news conference. The committee will hold a second hearing into the explosion in September or October, she said.

The blast at the fertilizer plant, the deadliest U.S. industrial accident in three years, left a crater 93 feet (28 meters) wide by 10 feet (3 meters) deep. The plant was approved to store 270 tons of ammonium nitrate, which can explode when it is heated or contaminated.

Boxer in a letter today urged governors to review state workplace safety and environmental policies and where possible adopt standards to reduce risks while allowing use of ammonium nitrate with appropriate protections.

“Chemical explosions can have tragic consequences, but best practices can prevent disasters,” Boxer wrote.

EPA Review

Boxer also urged the EPA to use its regulatory authority to help cut risks, including updating its policies on ammonium nitrate in place since 1997 and require facilities to treat storage of ammonium nitrate as part of risk-management plans.

The agency in a statement today said it is reviewing all policies related to storage of ammonium nitrate and chemical plant safety, and will work with Boxer and state and local authorities to boost safeguards.

“We are committed to focus on supporting local responders, further efforts by the federal government to advance additional chemical plant safety measures and standardizing the best practices of industry leaders,” according to the statement.

Boxer said that OSHA, which didn’t inspect the Adair Grain plant, also is at fault in the Texas disaster, although she said the agency faces budget cuts that Congress needed to resolve.

“I don’t intend to stop after one hearing,” Boxer said. “I am keeping my focus on this issue.’

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net

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