West explosion investigation finds lack of protection
The Chemical Safety Board released preliminary findings into the April 17, 2013, West Fertilizer explosion and fire in West, Texas, which resulted in at least 14 fatalities, 226 injuries and widespread community damage. Large quantities of ammonium nitrate (AN) fertilizer exploded after being heated by a fire at the storage and distribution facility. The CSB’s investigation focuses on shortcomings in existing regulations, standards, and guidance at the federal, state and county level.
The investigative team’s presentation will occur this evening at a public meeting in West, Texas, at 5:30 pm CDT.
CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso said, “The fire and explosion at West Fertilizer was preventable. 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’s investigation found that at the state level, there is no fire code and in fact counties under a certain population are prohibited from having them. “Local authorities and specifically—local fire departments—need fire codes so they can hold industrial operators accountable for safe storage and handling of chemicals,” said Dr. Moure-Eraso.
CSB Supervisory Investigator Johnnie Banks said “The CSB found at all levels of government a failure to adopt codes to keep populated areas away from hazardous facilities, not just in West, Texas. We found 1,351 facilities across the country that store ammonium nitrate. Farm communities are just starting to collect data on how close homes or schools are to AN storage, but there can be little doubt that West is not alone and that other communities should act to determine what hazards might exist in proximity.”
The CSB’s preliminary findings follow a yearlong investigation which has focused on learning how to prevent a similar accident from occurring in another community. “It is imperative that people learn from the tragedy at West,” Dr. Moure-Eraso said.
The investigation notes other AN explosions have occurred, causing widespread devastation. A 2001 explosion in France caused 31 fatalities, 2500 injuries and widespread community damage. In the United States, a 1994 incident caused 4 fatalities and eighteen injuries. More recently a July 2009 AN fire in Bryan, Texas, led to an evacuation of tens of thousands of residents. Fortunately no explosion occurred in the Bryan, Texas, incident which highlights the unpredictable nature of AN.