A fire burns at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas after an explosion Wednesday April 17, 2013. (APMichael Ainsworth/The Dallas Morning News)
It was early this morning when the email message came over from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board:
A large investigation team from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) is deploying to the scene of a massive fire and explosion at the West Fertilizer Plant located in West, Texas, north of Waco.
Local emergency officials have told the CSB of a large number of injuries and destroyed buildings in the town.
The investigative team will be led CSB Western Regional Office Director Don Holmstrom and is scheduled to arrive in Texas Thursday afternoon.
Unfortunately, West Virginians have come to know the CSB well. Agency officials produced detailed investigative reports on the 2007 propane explosion that killed four people at the Little General Store in Ghent, the August 2008 explosion and fire that killed two at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute, and the series of leaks at the DuPont Belle plant that left one worker dead in January 2010.
But as we reported a few months ago, the CSB dropped its investigation of the December 2010 explosion and fire that killed three workers at the AL Solutions plant up in New Cumberland, W.Va.:
As 2012 draws to a close, CSB officials are in the midst of their own probe of the April 2010 explosion and fire on a BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Among other ongoing cases, the CSB has launched a full investigation of the April fire at a Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, Calif., an incident that sent hundreds of area residents to hospitals. And like other government agencies, the CSB is facing the potential of serious budget and staffing cuts in coming years.
“It was in our minds a very serious and very tragic incident,” the board’s Horowitz said. “That’s why we sent a team out there. What has happened in our case as time unfolded, is just a plethora of competing priorities … all of which have huge pressures associated with them, and unfortunately for us, not a lot of resources to divvy up.”
And now, we have this important report from the Center for Public Integrity:
… Three years after Tesoro and Deepwater Horizon, both inquiries remain open – exemplars of a chemical board under attack for what critics call its sluggish investigative pace and short attention span. A former board member calls the agency “grossly mismanaged.”
The number of board accident reports, case studies and safety bulletins has fallen precipitously since 2006, an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity found. Thirteen board investigations – one more than five years old – are incomplete.
As members of Congress raise questions, the Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general is auditing the board’s investigative process.
“It is unacceptable that after three long years, the CSB has failed to complete its investigation of the tragic Tesoro refinery accident,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a written statement to the Center. “The families of the seven victims and the Anacortes community deserve better, and the CSB must be held accountable for this ridiculous delay.”