Numerous people are dead tonight and well
over 100 are injured after this massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas about
35 miles north of Waco. Eyewitnesses likened the event to a nuclear bomb blast and it sent
a massive fireball into the sky. The explosion registered a 2.1 on the richter scale, instantly
leveled dozens of houses in the area and shook others as far away as 50 miles. Officials
are evacuating parts of the town as the plant contained 54,000 pounds of the chemical anhydrous
ammonia, a pungent gas with suffocating fumes. When exposed to humans, it can cause severe
burns if it combines with water in the body. And exposure to high concentrations can lead
to death. This tragic event casts a massive spotlight on concerns over the lack of funding
for inspection agencies like OSHA – the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. OSHA understaffing
means they can only inspect plants like this one once every 129 years. Just 6 fertilizer
plants in the entire state of Texas were inspected by OSHA over the last five years and, naturally,
the West, Texas fertilizer plant was not one of them. Another regulatory body that would
have overseen the plant, the Chemical Safety Board, was coincidentally criticized today
in a piece by the Center for Public Integrity which highlighted the dwindling productivity
of the agency. When the West, Texas fertilizer plant was cited for OSHA violations way back
in 1985, the fine was a mere $30.