Report: Texas fertilizer plant tried to evade safety regulations

It’s called the “retail exemption,” and federal officials say they are investigating whether the plant truly qualified.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) decided, and crafted the rules, in 1992, claiming that facilities that sell more than half of their product to end users “did not present the same degree of hazard to employees as other workplaces covered by the proposal,” the report said.

ADVERTISEMENT

Small sites, with less than 10 workers, are also exempt from regular inspections unless they have a large number of employee incident or accident reports.

Claiming the retail exemption under OSHA also placed them in a less risky category with the Environmental Protection Agency — which usually requires these types of plants to write extensive accident prevention plans and have a plan for what to do in the case of an accident.

The blast on April 17 killed at least 15 people and left hundreds more injured or homeless. The Center for Public Integrity reported that plant had not been inspected since 1985.

An unknown number of sites nationwide could also be claiming the exemption, the Center for Public Integrity found.

Fertilizer is partially composed of the highly explosive ammonium nitrate because of its effectiveness in providing oxygen to crops — not to mention its availability and inexpensiveness.

Reports have surfaced that the plant in Texas had more than 1,350 times the amount of the chemical that would have put it under the watch of the Department of Homeland Security. The Center for Public Integrity does not mention department regulations in its report.

OSHA also monitors the anhydrous ammonia used in fertilizer — because of its potential hazard to workers — but the lack of accidents in the factory took the West, Texas, fertilizer plant off the agency’s inspection list.