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After West Blast, U.S. Senator Calls for Safer Fertilizer Storage

Filipa Rodrigues, KUT News

A U.S. Senator who oversees environmental regulation is urging state governors to increase safety standards for the storage of ammonium nitrate in the wake of the explosion in West.  Fifteen people were killed in April when a fertilizer plant exploded in the town just north of Waco.

California Democrat Barbara Boxerchairs the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

“If there’s even one more tragic death from improper storage of ammonium nitrate, we’ll have lost this opportunity. We have the information. The information is power. And the people who have power need to do something about this," Boxer said during a news conference Tuesday. 

Boxer's letter to governors does not mention specific measures they should take, but experts testified at a hearing of Boxer's committee that ammonium nitrate should not be stored in wooden containers, or near schools and homes, according to theDallas Morning News. Ammonium nitrate facilities should also be equipped with sprinklers, experts testified. 

At her Tuesday news conference, Boxer says she is pressuring the Environmental Protection Agency to include ammonium nitrate on a list of hazardous chemicals that require local risk management plans when stored in large quantities. 

"For some reason, EPA did not address the issue of ammonium nitrate, and I believe they should update their risk management plan to mandate that ammonium nitrate be stored under safe conditions," Boxer said.

Meanwhile, Governor Perry is formally appealing the federal government’s denial to declare the town of West a “major disaster” area. That kind of declaration would make more federal aid available.

Perry made his appeal in a letter to President Obama, saying the long-term viability of West is dependent on the president’s decision.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has provided more than $7 million in loans and grants to West survivors, and says it will pay millions more toward debris removal and emergency response costs. FEMA says the combined resources of the state, county and local governments should be enough to take care of the rest. 

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
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