From The Dallas Morning News:
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, in a letter released Tuesday, accused the Texas state fire marshal and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives of hampering its work by blocking access to key witnesses for three weeks after the massive blast — “an unprecedented and harmful delay.”
Board chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso wrote that the
Waco Tribune-Herald, May 22, 2013
The chairman of a federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents says the ATF and State Fire Marshal’s Office virtually shut out his investigators from the explosion site in West and severely hampered his agency’s investigation. In a plea to U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Rafael Moure-Eraso, chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, asks the senator to help his agency obtain evidence that remains under ATF control that he contends is essential to the board’s investigation into the April 17 West explosion.
Boxer, chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, has said she intends to conduct hearings on the West explosion, which killed 15 and injured 200 others.
“It is critical that we find out how this happened,” Boxer said in a statement last month. “We must ensure that facilities like the one in West are complying with chemical safety laws. We will look at how the laws on the books are being enforced and whether there is a need to strengthen them.”
ATF officials did not return phone messages from the Tribune-Herald on Tuesday.
Rachel Moreno, a spokeswoman from the State Fire Marshal’s Office, said her office had no immediate response but was formulating a statement Tuesday evening.
In a letter to Boxer dated May 17, Moure-Eraso said the CSB sent a team of 18 investigators and other experts to West within 24 hours of the explosion. At the same time, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives mobilized its national response team, which “assumed essential exclusive control of the incident site” with the State Fire Marshal’s Office, Moure-Eraso said.
ATF and State Fire Marshal’s Office officials announced last week that the cause of fire that triggered the blast remains undetermined. But they said they could not rule out three possible sources — arson, electrical wiring problems or a battery-powered golf cart stored near the ammonium nitrate.
The McLennan County Sheriff’s Office and the Texas Rangers also are investigating the deadly blast.
Moure-Eraso complains that during the “critical period before the accident site was completely altered,” CSB investigators were excluded from the site by ATF agents and received “only limited” access days later.
The ATF prohibited CSB investigators from interviewing witnesses for three weeks, “an unprecedented and harmful delay,” Moure-Eraso reported. On May 7, the CSB had scheduled its first interview with a plant employee who had been interviewed multiple times by the ATF.
ATF and SFMO officials said last week that the investigation entailed 20,000 personnel hours and cost more than $1 million.
Hundreds of investigators from 28 agencies collected and studied debris from as far as 2.5 miles from the scene, conducted hundreds of interviews and hand-sifted 300,000 pounds of corn and sorghum, kernel by kernel, they said.