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Federal Investigators: Deadly Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion Was “Preventable”

Apartment complex destroyed by the 2013 West  Fertilizer Co. explosion. (State Farm/Flickr Creative Commons)

Apartment complex destroyed by the 2013 West Fertilizer Co. explosion. (State Farm/Flickr Creative Commons)

The fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15 people in Texas last year could have been prevented, federal safety inspectors said on Tuesday.

The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) blamed the explosion, in which 40-60 tons of ammonium nitrate obliterated the West Fertilizer Co. and surrounding areas in West, Texas last April 17, on the company’s failure to install a sprinkler system.

CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said the fire and explosion “resulted from the failure of a company to take the necessary steps to avert a preventable fire and explosion and from the inability of federal, state and local regulatory agencies to identify a serious hazard and correct it.”

CSB said the fertilizer should have been stored in fireproof concrete structures to guard against possible fire hazards, rather than the wooden structures at the destroyed plant, and that a lack of fire codes contributed to the disaster.

“Local fire departments need fire codes so they can hold industrial operators accountable for safe storage and handling of chemicals,” said Moure-Eraso.

The ammonium nitrate that caught fire at the Texas plant burned for 22 minutes before exploding.

CSB also found that volunteer firefighters were unaware of the explosion risk when they rushed to extinguish the fire and were caught in harm’s way when the blast occurred. Among the dead were 10 first responders, as well as two civilians who volunteered to battle the blaze. At least 200 local residents were also injured in the blast, which destroyed a neighboring 50-unit apartment complex and seriously damaged a nearby nursing home and junior high school.

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4 Comments

  1. wildApril 24, 2014 at 7:58 pmReply

    I’m going to disagree with the CBS guy, because there is plenty of governmental Hazmat safety regulation already in place before this catastrophe happened. And the local fire departments were most probably well aware of the dangers, the local Hazmat Emergency team was and is absolutely well aware of how to handle such an incident…ANY fire at that factory would have been considered very serious, as in ‘explosive serious’.

    It would be my guess, and this is strictly just a wild guess, but the company management might have made mention to various employees at the plant to never call the Hazmat Emergency team, because there is quite an expense associated with calling them. So what the company could have told the employees long before this incident ever happened was something (less expensive) like ‘just call the local fire dept.’. IF ever a statement/policy was made for example, THAT would be news worthy.

    The mere statement that (2) volunteers were even allowed near such an incident proves that this incident was mismanaged before the fire ever broke out. It is pretty well known in dealing with HM incidents, no one except properly trained personnel are to do anything whatsoever except stand safety clear, & keep all others away from the danger. WELL AWAY in this incident should have been the reasonable response, for ALL unqualified personnel.

    This mismanagement should be squarely on the shoulders of the company. Now this CBS guy is out there in never-never land with all the other United Pet Owners of America, reaching for straws blaming the local fire dept. for somehow not participating in code enforcement, or blaming those that create the local codes, of which didn’t do their job. That is just BS, Texas is full of safety codes of law…that regulate this type of facility, not to mention Federal safety codes, that absolutely regulate this type of facility. But the CBS guy is saying because there was no government entity down there at the site, regulating it, therefore it is the government or the fire depts. fault. That just doesn’t wash with me, it is the company mismanagement that is responsible to follow the safety codes/laws ALREADY ESTABLISHED. I think it is down right communist to expect the government to be at your business, holding your hand, to make sure your doing it right. If your going to be in the business, don’t lay your failure on the government code/regulation or the flipping fire dept.

    I wasn’t there, I don’t know the circumstances, and after reading this account of the story, I don’t see any truth in it. Sorry Brett Wilkins I know you wrote this news account, wish I didn’t have to have such an harsh opinion of it.

    Could there have been more regulatory visits from the government safety entities, like OSHA & FMSCA, or the CSB? Probably! But we all must live with the way our nation has been managed for a long time now, and it is not news that ‘the regulators’ have been wayyyyyyyyy off the mark at standing for anything meaningful.

    Hasn’t everyone heard of the SEC & the FDIC doing some pretty lame oversight, which somehow allowed the economic safety codes to become blatantly swept aside, leading to an intentional worldwide economic catastrophe?

    Don’t get me started about the F&DA, and their lackluster ability to regulated long established safety codes. But remember as sad as our government is, these infractions are always the responsibility of those company managers. So if your slaughter house company has 299 illegal aliens, or your ship building outfit has 1231 foreigners working for cutthroat wages…blame the government or the fire dept. if you want, but it is the company mismanagement that actually FAILED.

    wild;)

    • Brett WilkinsApril 25, 2014 at 11:54 amReplyAuthor

      Boy, you really dive deep into everything, don’t you?

  2. wildApril 25, 2014 at 10:15 pmReply

    Ok, I deserve that Brett, but heck ya I dive in there, and I might be just a little bit pissed off while doing it.

    It deeply disturbs me when the epidemic of the same old systemic failure reoccurs. I clearly remember the Exxon Valdez incident, and the BP deep water horizon incident, and yet Shell & others are enroute right now for further ‘arctic exploration’…never mind that they don’t have an effective safety incident plan in place. But hey I get it, it is jobs before the planet, just ask any pet owner in these United States. And considering the joke they call justice in this country like the US Supreme Court’s final whittled down sum for the Exxon incident, from $14 billion to $400 million ( no interest, even tho Exxon & others kept the thing in legal battle for more than 14 years ) and we all wonder at Chevron who doesn’t wanna pay for the Texaco wreckage in South America, even tho they coaxed the venue to NY, NY.

    The epidemic systemic failure is do to mis-leadership & a happy endorsement for insurance salesmen everywhere! hahahaa

    wild;)

  3. wildApril 26, 2014 at 8:11 amReply

    A recent example of yet another incident, part of the epidemic systemic failure… this example in the direction of nuclear waste.

    I’m downloading the 302 page report (reference) for a little light reading this weekend.

    https://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/04/25-2

    Published on Friday, April 25, 2014 by Common Dreams
    “Safety Failures Pervasive at Site of Mysterious Nuclear Leak”
    U.S. government’s own report faults declining safety culture for release of radiation at troubled New Mexico dump
    – Sarah Lazare, staff writer

    wild;)

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