Fertilizer plant explosion in West, Tex., was preventable, investigators say

April 22, 2014

Investigators walking through the aftermath of a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in the town of West, Tex., in April 2013. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

A little more than a year after a massive explosion tore through a fertilizer plant in West, Tex. — leveling homes, killing 15 people and injuring more than 200 others — investigators said that the catastrophe could have been averted.

“The fire and explosion at West Fertilizer was preventable,” Rafael Moure-Eraso, chairman of the Chemical Safety Board, said in a statement Tuesday. “It should never have occurred. It 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.”

The CSB, a federal agency that investigates chemical accidents at industrial facilities, released its preliminary findings on Tuesday, just five days after the one-year anniversary of the disaster.

One particular issue highlighted by the CSB’s investigation, which it said is focusing on preventing a similar accident in another area, deals with the storage of ammonium nitrate fertilizer at the facility.

Volunteer firefighters from West were not aware that the ammonium nitrate stored at the fertilizer offered an additional explosion hazard, which placed them in harm’s way during the blast, the investigators said. Firefighters need to be better protected and prepared for emergency responses that could involve ammonium nitrate, according to investigators.

In addition, regulations governing the storage and handling of ammonium nitrate should be updated, Moure-Eraso said. There are 1,351 facilities in the country that store the fertilizer.

The explosion and fire tore through the plant and destroyed surrounding homes on April 17, 2013. Doors and roofs were blown off of homes by the blast, which ravaged a large stretch of West. Last week, on the first anniversary of the blast, hundreds gathered in West to honor and remember the victims.

Investigators from the CSB will present additional information at a public meeting in West on Tuesday.

 

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He runs Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.
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