Will Texas learn a lesson from the tragedy at West?

Everyone is horrified at the loss of life and destruction last night from the explosion of a fertilizer plant in the town of West. One of the many things we must resolve in light of this disaster is to make sure that steps are taken to prevent a recurrence elsewhere.

It was clearly a mistake to permit homes and schools to be built so close to the plant that exploded. We can see that through hindsight.

The State of Texas is currently facing a decision of whether to permit the rebuilding of homes even closer to a plant that poses a greater danger to the residents of the westside community of Port Arthur, TX.

Millions in federal disaster recovery funds have been allocated to address the damage and destruction to homes in Port Arthur and Texas City. The State of Texas General Land Office is conducting an environmental impact assessment of proposals to rebuild homes in these communities. We have questioned whether it is wise to spend millions to rebuild homes in these communities or whether the families living their should be bought out and given the funds to buy homes in safer locations.

The closest homes in West appear to have been about 500 feet from the plant that exploded. In Port Arthur there are homes that could be rebuilt half that distance from huge petrochemical storage tanks and across a chain link fence from the largest refinery and hazardous waste incinerator in the US.

We have called on the State of Texas and the local governments to consider targeting the available funds to buy out homes in these areas and to help people to relocate to safer homes. Whether that will happen is now up to the government officials.

You can read our report and recommendations and judge for yourself.

The tragedy at West should cause us all to carefully consider what can be done to keep homes and schools a safe distance from hazardous industries.

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