The U.S. Chemical Safety Board released the preliminary findings of its investigation at a news conference this week, just a few days after the anniversary of the West fertilizer plant explosion. Federal investigators determined that a lack of oversight and regulations at the local, state, and federal levels contributed to the deadly fertilizer plant explosion that devastated a rural Texas town last year.
The plant explosion was one of the worst industrial accidents in Texas history.
Officials focused in on how the West Fertilizer Company handled the ammonium nitrate that set off the explosion and the corresponding lack of regulatory oversight. Flammable white pellets of ammonium nitrate were stored in a wooden warehouse in wooden containers, inside of a building without a sprinkler system, which scarily complies with our existing state and federal safety standards.
Ammonium nitrate is stored at over 1,300 American facilities, but there are no restrictions preventing such plants from being located near residential areas. The West, Texas explosion damaged hundreds of the town’s 700 homes.
While no other chemical has caused more widespread harm to the public in preventable accidents than ammonium nitrate, it is not classified as an explosive in the United States.
The explosion at the plant in West killed 14 people, 10 of them firefighters and emergency responders, and at least two others were local volunteers. The death toll constituted the largest number of firefighters to die in the line of duty in Texas at a single episode in nearly 70 years.
The West explosion also wounded more than 200 people and destroyed or damaged a significant portion of local property. One year after April 17, 2013, West continues to rebuild.