Gov. Perry discusses West plant's compliance


by ASHLEY GOUDEAU / KVUE News and photojournalist DAVID GARDNER

Bio | Email | Follow: @AshleyG_KVUE

Posted on April 18, 2013 at 6:21 PM

Updated Thursday, Apr 18 at 6:28 PM

AUSTIN, Texas -- Governor Rick Perry held a news conference Thursday morning to discuss the state's response to the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas.

"Last night was truly a nightmare scenario for that community, but as I said earlier, we're blessed in the state to have the best emergency management team in the country and they certainly were at their best last night along with the citizens," Perry said.

The Governor has issued a disaster declaration for McLennan County. That makes aid available to people in West. He also said he is asking President Barack Obama for a federal emergency declaration.

"President Obama called from Air Force One as he was in route to Boston and we greatly appreciate his call and his gracious offer of support of course and a very quick turn around of the emergency declaration that will be forthcoming and his offer of prayers. We greatly appreciate the president for his call," added Perry.

During the news conference, the condition and compliance of the fertilizer plant that exploded was discussed.

In 2006, there was an odor complaint filed with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Apparently, an ammonia smell was coming from the plant. That lead to an investigation by the TCEQ which found that the facility did not have air permits with the agency.

"The facility has been here since 1962. They were grandfathered up to a certain point," explained TCEQ Director Zack Covar. "I believe in 2004 they were supposed to come in and get reauthorized, they failed to do so and I hate to speculate why."

The issue with the TCEQ was resolved after the plant owners got two air permits. Since that time there have not been any other complaints or notices of violations. And since there were no complaints, the TCEQ has not inspected the facility.

Back in 2006, the plant was cited for being out of compliance with the EPA. The owners of West Chemical and Fertilizer Company were fined $2,300 by the EPA because it failed to implement the risk management plan in 2006.

Another question that was brought up in the news conference regarded the West firefighters using water to fight a chemical fire. It had been speculated that it contributed to the explosion, but state officials quickly shot down that theory.

"A lot of people don't like putting water and ammonia hydrate together and I believe that was one of the chemicals that was there. Usually when you mix those two you have to have something that confines it in order to make it a dangerous product," said Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd. 

"I'll tell you, a lot of firefighters will use their number one tool, which is water, in a hazardous materials chemical situation like that to cool the surrounding environments, to cool those other tanks to keep them from cooking off or exploding. So again, too soon to really speculate was it the right place at the right time, but I don't think we should be, we shouldn't be second guessing right now the actions of the first responders," Kidd added.

The plant now has a score of "average" with the TCEQ, which is standard.


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