TX officials to see if fertilizer plants are near schools

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Two months after the explosion at a fertilizer facility in West, Texas, state officials told lawmakers this week they are not clear on how many fertilizer production sites in states are located near residential centers. Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw and State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy testified before the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee.

Concerns were raised after the blast in West, Texas, when schools, homes, apartments and a senior living center located close to the plant were severely damaged. Aerial photographs of the plant and nearby buildings showed residential centers and a high school within blocks of the fertilizer facility. Residents raised questions as to why these residential areas were allowed to be built so close to the facility.

McCraw and Connealy said there are 16 fertilizer production sites in Texas similar to the facility that had the explosion. Other state officials said 129 facilities store at least 5 tons of ammonium nitrate and other potentially explosive materials. Sixteen of those were fertilizer-mixing facilities like West Fertilizer Co.

The hearing was the second of its kind since the April 17 explosion.

At the hearing this week, Committee Chairman and El Paso Rep. Joe Pickett said he’d like to see the state fire marshal’s office build a website for the public to see where facilities are located that are similar to West Fertilizer. He suggested the site be modeled after other online resources such as tracking registered sex offenders.

The Associated Press reported that Pickett acknowledged that passing legislation mandating further oversight of facilities with hazardous chemicals could be a tough sell in the Republican-controlled Legislature, suggesting instead that the state fire marshal's office provide a list of "best practices," or rules that have worked in some communities and others might like to follow.

Also during the hearing, the committee drafted a letter to FEMA asking it to reconsider its decision to not provide additional money to help build the West, Texas, community.

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