Failures on all levels: Feds say deadly Texas fertilizer plant explosion was preventable

The fire and explosion killed 15 people and caused $100 million in damages

Topics: Fertilizer Plant Explosion, Texas Fertilizer Plant, U.S. Chemical Safety Board, ,

Failures on all levels: Feds say deadly Texas fertilizer plant explosion was preventableThe remains of a fertilizer plant burn after an explosion at the plant in the town of West, near Waco, Texas early April 18, 2013. (Credit: Reuters)

What caused a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, to set fire last year remains unclear, but investigators say that the ensuing explosion, along with the 15 lives it claimed, could have been prevented.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board released its preliminary findings on the disaster Tuesday. Among its conclusions, the L.A. Times lists:

  • The firefighters should have been trained to deal with the stockpile of ammonium nitrate at West Fertilizer Co.
  • State regulators should not have allowed the fertilizer to be stored in wooden containers.
  • Local authorities should have considered keeping schools and homes farther away from the plant.

“(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,” Rafael Moure-Eraso, the board’s chairman, told Reuters.

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Ammonium nitrate, the board also noted, remains stored in wooden containers at 1,351 plants throughout the country — putting them at risk of similar incidents. “The Chemical Safety Board found at all levels of government a failure to adopt codes to keep populated areas away from hazardous facilities, not just in West, Texas,” said supervisory investigator Johnnie Banks  in a statement.

Along with the deaths, which included 12 volunteer firefighters, the explosion caused 200 injuries and an estimated $100 million in property damage.

The board, which provides recommendations to government and industry, itself has no power to issue fines or impose new regulations. Last year, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration fined the company that owns the plant $118,300 for violations.

Lindsay Abrams

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email

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