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Lawmakers call for chemical facility review after Texas blast

An aerial view shows the aftermath of a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in the town of West, near Waco, Texas April 18, 2013. REUTER
An aerial view shows the aftermath of a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in the town of West, near Waco, Texas April 18, 2013. REUTER

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic lawmakers are seeking a federal review of security at industrial chemical facilities after the deadly explosion at a West, Texas, fertilizer plant in April.

The blast killed 15 people and injured scores more.

Representative Henry Waxman of California, ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, his counterpart on the House Homeland Security Committee, asked President Barack Obama on Thursday to set up an expert commission to assess security risks at chemical plants, refineries and related facilities.

Those committees have jurisdiction over the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program, a regulatory program for high-risk chemical facilities.

Waxman and Thompson cited a "distressing lack of progress" in securing such facilities since the program was established in 2007.

Recent reports by the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security and the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm, have also found that the program is failing.

Since the April blast, it has been determined that the facility in Texas had never submitted required documentation under the CFATS program. But Homeland Security took no action and was unaware that the West plant had chemicals of concern at levels above the regulation threshold, the lawmakers noted.

"We ask you to consider steps that can be taken in response to the explosion to reduce the security risks of chemical plants, refineries, water treatment facilities, and other facilities holding large stores of industrial chemicals," the lawmakers wrote to Obama.

On Tuesday, Senator Barbara Boxer, head of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said she plans a hearing soon on the Texas disaster and will probe for gaps in the enforcement of chemical safety laws.

(Reporting By Ros Krasny; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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