A chemical plant explosion in Geismar, La. has injured more than 30 people and killed at least one, according to Louisiana State Police. It’s the first major explosion since the fertilizer plant in West, Texas, killed 15 people. When a major plant explosion happens, how do you figure out what went wrong? Journalists have been asking that question and getting answers in Texas, some of which might be helpful for reporters starting to gather the facts in Louisiana. IRE compiled some of those stories, some IRE resources and some helpful databases for investigating after an industrial explosion.
Learning from the West, Texas explosion
- The Dallas Morning News has investigated many aspects of the West, Texas plant explosion, including the fact that many plants lack safety inspections despite known risks and many plants report large stores of dangerous chemicals near densely populated areas.
- WFAA in Dallas/Fort Worth area has also published a series of reports in the aftermath of the explosion, including the fact that emergency protocols were not followed and the chemical at the center of the blast was not deemed “extremely hazardous” by the EPA.
- NBC Dallas/Fort Worth: Millions in State Funds Not Reaching Volunteer Fire Departments
- Reuters: Texas fertilizer company didn’t heed disclosure rules before blast
- ProPublica: What went wrong and where were the regulators?
- Tipsheet: Crashes, Explosions and Spills Chemicals/Medical/Science on Deadline
- Tipsheet: Measuring risk: From earthquakes to nuclear plants, how to investigate community preparedness
- Tipsheet: Putting It All Together: Breaking News and Disaster Coverage
- Story questionnaire: The Toxic Time Bomb – An investigation of Nassau County’s two major sewage plants finds that the once state-of-the-art facilities are now putting the plant workers, the environment, and the public at risk.
- Story questionnaire: Steamrolled – Houston residents are being exposed to industrial pollution with no protection from state and local regulators. Because Houston does not have zoning laws, industrial plants can be built in residential neighborhoods.
- Story questionnaire: Poisoned Places – It’s difficult to definitively link any one person’s illness to air pollution from a particular plant. But the concerns about the health effects of Tonawanda Coke’s toxic pollution rallied a small group of people in Tonawanda — most of them sick — to force complacent regulators to clean up the air.
Using data to investigate industrial facilities
- OSHA Workplace Safety Data consist of inspections in all states and U.S. territories. The database can be used to analyze inspections/accidents involving a certain occupation or those in a given region or city. It is available in the NICAR data library,. or you can search OSHA’s data online at http://www.osha.gov/oshstats/
- The EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) database integrates inspection, violation, and enforcement for the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and hazardous waste laws for hundreds of thousands of facilities. It’s available in an easy-to-use format here. You can search by facility. Here’s the ECHO report for the Louisiana plant.
- The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) consists of information about on- and off-site releases of chemicals and other waste management activities reported annually by industries, including federal facilities. The data include information on reporting facility, toxic chemical identity, waste treatment and recycling activities. The data are available in the NICAR data library, and through an EPA web application. Here’s the TRI Report for the Louisiana plant.