US Senate committee wants govt. intervention in chemical storage

This image was captured as workers ran from the plant explosion in Geismar on June 13.
This image was captured as workers ran from the plant explosion in Geismar on June 13.

WASHINGTON, DC (WAFB) - A committee of US senators is pushing for stronger regulations and more oversight from the Environmental Protection Agency following recent tragic explosions in Louisiana and Texas.

The committee doesn't necessarily want more regulation but action. The US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works wants the federal government to step in and come up with a plan on how chemicals are stored at plants and enforce it.

Rafael Eraso with the Federal Chemical Safety Board first updated the Senate committee on its investigation into the incident at Williams-Olefins in Geismar. Two people were killed and 77 others were hurt as a result of the explosion on June 13.

Eraso said structural engineers are on the ground there making sure the plant is safe. He mentioned there is still hanging debris and investigators cannot go in and do their jobs until it is removed. He added the CSB has interviewed 14 people who were direct witnesses to the explosion.

During the hearing, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, cornered a panelist with the US Environmental Protection Agency about a 2002 recommendation that's still up in the air regarding how to store and regulate potentially explosive chemicals.

"I am sympathetic to the fact that there's work to be done," Boxer said. "I am unsympathetic to the attitude that I hear, which is a lack of urgency."

"In order to establish that time frame, we need to understand the issue better," said Barry Breen with the EPA. "That's what we're doing now."

During the hearing, Sen. David Vitter, R-LA, commended Ascension Parish emergency workers in their swift response to the Williams-Olefins tragedy.

Rick Webre, the director of the Ascension Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, who was a panelist at the hearing, said having open communication with the 30-something plants in the area helped tremendously.

The other explosion the committee is looking into happened at a fertilizer plant in West, TX, on April 17. That blast killed 15 people.

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