A Fixer-Upper

Highlights from Hair Balls


It's been more than two months since the explosion at the West, Texas, fertilizer factory left the little town looking like a nuclear bomb had been dropped on it.

Since then, the hits have kept on coming. The townspeople have gone about trying to rebuild their home without the help of disaster relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They've dealt with finding out that the fertilizer plant that was sitting there alongside a school, a nursing home and a bunch of residences was about as unregulated as a place could get. They've mourned the loss of those who were on the site when the factory blew up, and they've been trying to rebuild. The people of West are remarkable because they seem to be taking all of this in stride.

Maybe they've left some of the grittier work to the U.S. Senate, whose members laid into the Environmental Protection Agency last week for not regulating the ammonium nitrate believed to have been at the heart of the explosion before the accident and after.

Government is slow. It seems as if it takes forever to approve so much as the purchase of a pencil because that's probably on the side of truth. Still, in the wake of West, it seems senators expected that the EPA would step up a little more quickly and start regulating the stuff that was not regulated before West became synonymous with that fireball video everyone was watching in the days just after the explosion.

Senator Barbara Boxer of California attacked the federal regulatory agency a couple weeks ago. Boxer, chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, told an EPA official that the agency didn't need to wait to start regulating stockpiles of chemicals but needed to step up and get started now.

"Let's fix it. You have the tools. We're going to work with you or, if necessary, against you," Boxer told the EPA officials, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald.

The Chemical Safety Board officials got off relatively easy with Boxer, who noted that the people conducting investigations for CSB were "heroes" for their work. This praise comes after CSB investigators were summarily locked out of the investigation by the Justice Department's Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigators and the State Fire Marshal's Office in the days after the blast.

Boxer gave no quarter to the EPA, demanding that EPA safety official Barry Breen lay out a clearer timeline for the agency to take action and begin regulating stockpiles of chemicals. Boxer also said she'd be taking this issue to the White House, yet another not-at-all-subtle way of saying they'd best get moving, the ­Herald-Tribune reported.

Meanwhile, the folks of West have been working on putting things back together and moving on from the explosion that killed 15 and caused more than $100 million in damage. The city has filed a lawsuit against the company that owned West Fertilizer Co. The suit seeks unspecified damages for negligence from Adair Grain Inc., the company that owned the plant, according to the Dallas Morning News. Suing won't mean none of this happened, of course, but if West wins, maybe Adair Grain Inc. will have to help rebuild the town.


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