Looking for Texas fertilizer plant explosion facts

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The West Fertilizer Company plant explosion in West, Texas, is an international news story without many details having been provided by law enforcement, fire investigators or emergency services directors.

The number of deaths has not been confirmed but has fluctuated from around a dozen to 70 in the news media, which is scrambling to grab readers with sensational headlines and be the first with the “latest news.”

What is known is that the initial fire call from the fertilizer plant occurred at 7:29 p.m. Wednesday night, and 24 minutes later as firefighters, police and paramedics were at the site and evacuating nearby residents the devastating explosion that measured an equivalent of a 2.1 magnitude earthquake shook the small town.

The cause of the fire and explosion is completely unknown at this time.

As for what fertilizer has been produced at the site and the volume of various chemicals on the site, nothing concrete has been released to the media; therefore, there is all kinds of speculation about the volume and type of fertilizer ingredients on the site. Initial reports were about large volumes of anhydrous ammonia. Ammonium nitrate has been mentioned by consumer media comparing the blast to the Oklahoma City bombing.

Everything is speculation because as of 10 a.m. Thursday morning there still had not been a West Fertilizer official stepping forward to answer media questions, and the government investigators weren’t in a situation to provide details. The search for bodies was still in progress and the whereabouts of everyone in the community was still being accounted for.

It was interesting to see the media putting together side stories of blame without any basis for the explosion. Reporters dug back into the regulatory reports to find the most recent violation write-up was for a 10-minute release of anhydrous ammonia occurring in 2006. Then there are the reports and speculation about the lack of inspection of the facilities by understaffed state and federal regulators. Additionally, there are some media writing blame articles about the company not being forthright in filing reports on the fire and explosion potential at the site.

Of course everyone in the agricultural industry is upset that products related to crop production have resulted in the loss of life. The Agricultural Retailers Association and The Fertilizer Institute staffs noted their sadness and said their thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by this incident.  

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Connecticut  |  April, 18, 2013 at 11:27 AM

If all they had was one violation in seven years that's really good. We need to remember that accidents do happen, as unfortunate as it is.

Virginia  |  April, 20, 2013 at 07:00 PM

Most of these violations are for paper work violations, not dangerous operational regulation violations.

Connie Burk    
Oklahoma  |  April, 18, 2013 at 11:39 AM

If only one write up for the plant occurring in 2006, that is great. However, just like the news media to try to make a mountina from of a mole hill. Let's all give the enforcement communities time to invetigate thoroughly and pray for the injuries not to be life threatening.

Ohio  |  April, 18, 2013 at 12:07 PM

An excellent article. I am wondering why the news has not picked up on the 1947 Texas city explosion when two ships loaded with ammonium nitrate caught fire and exploded doing a horrible amount of damage and killing firemen and first responders.

monte vista co.  |  April, 18, 2013 at 12:18 PM

instead of placing blame , why can't we pray for the families and the town for the great loss that there community has just felt .

Charles Shapiro    
Concord, NE  |  April, 18, 2013 at 12:42 PM

For those interested in the history of the story on how the industrial process of creating 'fixed' nitrogen came about, the book, "The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific Discovery That Fed the World but Fueled the Rise of Hitler" by Thomas Hager is extremely informative, a good read, and puts into perspective our ability to predict the consequences of our actions. This explosion is a terrible event in a week of upsetting events.

Hillsboro, TX  |  April, 18, 2013 at 01:18 PM

AMEN to you Mr. Dale! Thank you for that comment! That's exactly what we all need to be doing right now! Thanks again!

Woody Myles    
Los Angeles CA  |  April, 18, 2013 at 01:20 PM

I am a 50 yr Master Electrcian with pole line experience. After examining the West Fertalizer site via Google Earth. I noticed numerous aerial power lines proximate to buildings and storage tanks. It is possible, during a high wind episode, for those power lines to break, drop and arc causing the primary fire ignition and possible secondary ignition. This is my personal theory based on my exrerience. I felt I should share this with you in case it could help. God bless everyone affected by this heartbreaking incident. Woody Myles

Canada  |  April, 18, 2013 at 06:08 PM

First off I commend you with the presentation of facts regarding this sad incident. Our first concern should be for the people who are still missing or were lost. Secondly I would like to point out that while the industry has strict regulations in place, accidents happen and the industry must continue to strive towards a zero incident policy. Finally sadly we lost a lot of lives in this terrible incident I do want to say that billions of people on this planet today are here because of synthetic fertilizer. The book the Alchemy of Air by Thomas Hagar is a good history of synthetic fertilizer and how it has changed a planet and enables billions of people to live their lives today. Sadly the events yesterday have left many lives forever changed. Our thoughts and prayers to the families effected by the incident.

Mike Utterback    
April, 19, 2013 at 07:48 AM

Sounds normal the media thinking of ratings not facts.

Iowa  |  April, 19, 2013 at 08:53 AM

I have friends close to West and would like to pass on residents requests for help. They are asking for totes to remove their items from their homes that have been lost, fast food gift cards and gift cards to Walmart. The following post was placed on the Texas Hill Country facebook page found here https://www.facebook.com/TexasHillCountry. "Food, water, GAUZE, etc. is needed. Options: 1) Shelly Gass with Bulverde Spring Branch EMS said if people want to donate gift cards they can send it to: 353 Rodeo Drive, Spring Branch, Texas 78070. Attention Shelly Gass. Gift cards are good because they can purchase whatever is needed. Shelly will handle the donations properly. (God bless her!!) I have her cell phone number if requested, but was afraid to blow up her phone if I posted it. 2) HELP WEST! We are collecting Wal-Mart gift cards to purchase food for our fellow Texans in West. They will be delivered this weekend! The goal is to buy and cook food to ease the burden for the community of West. They need us Any amount will help! Please call my Farmers Insurance office at 817-427-4311 if you can help. Thank you! -Scott Bagg" If you are wanting to help please do so either by sending items requested or forwarding the request to your friends and family.

Kansas  |  April, 19, 2013 at 08:53 AM

According to Texas officials and the EPA, the plant was in violation of several safety regulations- for one thing, they had no sprinkler system in case of fire (EPA report from 2011 confirms this), there was a $10,000 fine for other safety violations in 2012, and the plant's last OSHA inspection was in 1985. I imagine the fire inspectors will find dozens more violations after the search for bodies is completed. The most interesting thing you cite in your article is that not one company official has stepped forward to at least offer sympathy to people who have lost family members. Safe operations save lives.

Hill County  |  April, 19, 2013 at 10:27 AM

I have been to this site many times and would like all to know that all the large round "tanks" people are seeing on Google Earth are grain tanks, not chemical or fertilizer storage.

iowa  |  April, 26, 2013 at 10:00 AM

They were making meth in the factory and then their meth lab blew up..


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