As the surviving residents of West, TX struggle to understand their losses after a fertilizer plant in the city’s midst exploded, new evidence has emerged that the plant operators were negligent when it came to safety. Texas law stipulates that plants like the one that exploded need to be equipped with sprinklers and other safety mechanisms, but since the blast, which killed up to 15 people, it has become clear that no such equipment was in place there.
According to Mike Wilson, the air permit chief for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, sprinklers and safety barriers for the fertilizer storage and blending facility in West were legally required. The reason was quite obvious—the plant handles anhydrous ammonia, a fertilizer that can be flammable and, in the right conditions, explosive.
In a risk management plan filed with the Environmental Protection Agency back in 2011, however, plant officials admitted they did not have such systems. Apparently, no corrective action was taken over the next two years. As we now know, the plant explosion was triggered by a late evening fire. Perhaps if the plant operators had not shown disregard for legally mandated safety measures, this devastating incident would not have occurred.