West, Texas, Updates, Bangladesh and Other Safety Matters

It's been two weeks now since the explosion and fire at the West Fertilizer Company destroyed the facility, killed 15 people, leveled more than 50 houses, an apartment complex, two schools and a nursing home. In some respects, we don't know anymore now than we did the day after the event, but some things are becoming clear. The regulators are going to be under some severe scrutiny and the politicians are going to have a field day.

One of the biggest issues catching attention is the maze of regulatory agencies that were supposed to be responsible for checking up on the plant, their small budgets, their divided responsibilities, their confused jurisdictions, all of which led to the fact that if, indeed, any violations occurred, they could easily have fallen through the cracks, and no one would have noticed. The other thing we can be sure of is that there will be a bevy of committees "investigating" what went wrong, each one staffed by politicians posing for the cameras with one eye on the next election. Whether they actually accomplish anything or not, remains to be seen.

Another issue is the laxity of zoning laws, not just in Texas, but across the country, that allows schools, homes and hospitals to be built right across the street from plants making or storing dangerous chemicals. But given that rationalizing the hundreds of thousands of zoning boards around the country would be like trying to manage a herd of cats with ADHD, the likelihood of real reform here seems small as well.

Meanwhile, the Texas State Fire Marshall's office says the first investigations may be complete by May 10.

For those of you keeping score, another online meme to watch is the comparisons that are being raised between West, Texas, and the factory collapse in Bangladesh. It's easy to dismiss comparisons as being a matter of apples and oranges, however, the mere fact that criminal charges against the building owner are already in the works does make one wonder about the differences in attitudes overseas—as well as some of the similarities—and over here. It's going to be interesting to watch how this debate develops and whether any of the sound and fury either place actually makes a difference.  

And, finally, for those of you just catching up on West, Texas, here's a great series of photos from The Atlantic.