U.S. levies $118,300 in fines in Texas fertilizer plant blast

Reuters
FILE - The damage from the fertilizer plant explosion is seen from helicopters in accompanying President Barack Obama in West, Texas, in this April 25, 2013 file photo. The U.S Chemical Safety Board will tell a Senate committee Thursday June 27, 2013 that regulation of the dangerous chemicals used in the industry fall under a “patchwork” of standards that are decades old and are far weaker than rules used by other countries. The findings will be presented to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
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The damage from the fertilizer plant explosion is seen from helicopters in accompanying President Barack Obama in West, Texas, in this April 25, 2013 file photo. The U.S Chemical Safety Board will tell a Senate committee Thursday June 27, 2013 that regulation of the dangerous chemicals used in the industry fall under a “patchwork” of standards that are decades old and are far weaker than rules used by other countries. The findings will be presented to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

By Marice Richter

DALLAS, Texas (Reuters) - The U.S. government will fine a Texas fertilizer plant $118,300 for 24 health and safety violations in connection with an April explosion that leveled parts of a small town and killed 14 people, according to an OSHA citation and a U.S. senator.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) outlined the fines in a 36-page document sent to Adair Grain Inc, which had been doing business as West Fertilizer Co, after inspections that ended in August.

Violations by West Fertilizer cited by OSHA ranged from unsafe handling and storage of anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate, to improper flooring in chemical storage and handling areas, to not having appropriate fire extinguishers on hand or an emergency response plan in place.

The company has 15 days to contest any or all of the citations.

Senator Barbara Boxer of California and chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, also announced the fines in a conference call on Thursday with reporters. She said she held the call because the statute of limitations on filing violations is approaching and could run out before the partial government shutdown ends.

The California Democrat said the partial government shutdown had delayed investigations of the West explosion, including a report due from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, an independent federal agency.

About 90 percent of employees at OSHA, an arm of the Department of Labor and the main federal agency charged with the enforcement of safety and health legislation, are currently furloughed. Only three employees have been retained at the CSB.

A plant spokesman told Reuters on Thursday that attorneys are still reviewing the alleged violations.

"Based on initial review, it doesn't appear that any of these violations had anything that has to do with what happened in April," said Daniel Keeney, spokesman for owner Donald Adair and West Fertilizer Co.

The April 17 blast at the West Fertilizer Co flattened homes and caused an estimated $100 million in damages to neighborhoods, businesses and schools in West, Texas, about 80 miles south of Dallas. The dead included 11 firefighters and other first responders who had rushed to contain a fire at the plant moments before the blast.

Ammonium nitrate is a dry fertilizer mixed with other fertilizers such as phosphate and applied to crops to promote growth. It can be combustible under certain conditions.

(Additional reporting by Ros Krasny. Writing by Karen Brooks; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)

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