Safety office blames ‘holes’ in regulations for Texas factory blast

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Among the regulation's loopholes, he said, are measures that allow the explosive substance to be stored in combustible wooden bins and buildings, the lack of a mandate for sprinklers in those buildings and an absence of prohibitions on locating the storage areas near schools or populated areas.

The Chemical Safety Board recommended the Environmental Protection Agency beef up its regulations of the chemicals in 2002, but the agency has yet to take action.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, lambasted the EPA for the delay.

"I am sympathetic to the fact that there's work to be done. I am unsympathetic to the attitude that I hear, which is a lack of urgency, because lives are being lost and recommendations were made a long time ago, and nothing's happening," she said.

Boxer noted that outside groups have also asked the EPA to issue new regulations on safer technology.

"Now you have outside groups, inside groups, chemical safety board — everyone is telling to you do something," she said.

Barry Breen, the deputy assistant administrator of the EPA's Solid Waste and Emergency Response Office, told the committee that the agency is "looking at a number of potential policy options in addressing this tragedy."

He said that the EPA had issued a guidance warning chemical companies about the dangers of ammonium nitrate, but that was in 1997.

"You're reading to me and taking credit for something that happened in the last century?" Boxer responded. "We're in this century!"

She added, "I feel that EPA has to step up to the plate here and do a lot more."

Fifteen people were killed in the Texas explosion. Earlier this month, two people died at an accident at a chemical plant in Geismar, La.

Moure-Eraso warned lawmakers that a lack of resources and overabundance of sites to investigate are stretching the Chemical Safety Board too thin.

"When the next serious accident comes along in the near future in the petrochemical industry, and believe me, they are coming, we will not be able to have the researchers to deploy," he said.

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