Texas Lawmakers Propose Chemical Information Sharing

19.02.2015 -

Two years after the devastating explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, and three months after four workers were killed in a chemical leak at a DuPont plant in La Porte, three state lawmakers have introduced legislation that would require a statewide safety protocol for facilities that store ammonium nitrate.

The proposals also would shift responsibility for gathering facility compliance data from the Department of State Health Services to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the newspaper Houston Chronicle reports, as well as giving the state fire marshal the authority to request inspections of such facilities and requiring a greater exchange of information among state and local emergency planners and response personnel.

Companies storing ammonium nitrate and other volatile chemicals on site would be required to submit updated reports within three months of any change in their inventories. However, the legislative proposals would not force officials to share more information about volatile chemical storage with the public. This has raised the ire of public safety advocates.

State representative Joe Pickett, sponsor of one of the bills, said he agrees with Texas governor Greg Abbott that detailed information about chemical stockpiles should remain available only to local and state officials, to minimize the risk of dangerous substances falling fall into the hands of criminals or terrorists.

Pickett said the bills focus on getting the right information to those who really need it, including first responders and local safety officials. According to the newspaper, volunteer firefighters suffered the highest death toll at West, and those called to the DuPont leak last year had received "scant information" on the amounts of the dangerous chemicals on site.

Legislation proposed by two other Texas legislators also would require facility owners to provide evidence of compliance with new rules and would require them to post warning placards outside of ammonium nitrate storage areas. These bills also do not include increased public reporting requirements.

Representative Kyle Cacal said his bill "seeks to strike a careful balance between public safety regulations and a crucial agriculture industry." His proposal, he added, "strives to clearly define any requirements on businesses so that they can be vetted through the legislative process, as well as clarify reporting requirements for those in the chemical industry."