Friday, April 19, 2013

"Out of Control" Indication in Texas Plant Explosion

"Out of Control" Indication in Texas Plant Explosion


I have mentioned many times, there is always a trail of things going out of control before an accident. As we begin to study what happened in West Texas, we begin to have indications of possible violations of Safety requirements at the plant. As indicated by the article I cited from the Chicago Times.
Fertilizer Plant Explosion in West Texas

“It remains unclear what safety measures, if any, were required of the company or whether West Fertilizer failed to comply. But on Wednesday night, the company's fertilizer complex in West, Texas - population, 2,600 - exploded with such force that 60 to 80 homes were flattened, the school and nursing home took heavy damage and at least 14 people were killed, authorities said.”

2011 filing by the EPA revealed that there was a possible serious health issue with anhydrous ammonia release. Now the substance is not flammable but extremely toxic.

In a separate filing earlier this year to the Texas Department of State Health Services, West Fertilizer disclosed that, as of the end of 2012, the company was also storing more volatile chemical compounds at the same address, including 270 tons of ammonium nitrate.”

Ammonium nitrate is extremely explosive. In addition, there was a history of safety violations.

Investigators stand amid the aftermath of a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in the town of West, near Waco, Texas

"The privately held fertilizer plant, which has been in operation since 1962, has been cited for safety violations by regulators in the past. Records show the EPA fined West in 2006 for $2,300 for failing to update its risk management plan, a blueprint required to ensure safe operations.”

The company also failed to have a employee training program and did NOT have   “ formal written maintenance program in place.”  . It is disturbing that the EPA did not fine the plant for that violation.  It is so important to have Procedures for everything. 

“In December 2006, it received a 10-year permit from Texas regulators that allowed for the operation of two 12,000-gallon (45,425-liter) storage tanks for anhydrous ammonia. The permit required West Fertilizer to carry out daily visual, auditory and olfactory inspections. It was not clear whether the firm required, or obtained, additional permits for operations involving more volatile compounds.”

Daily inspections...the article indicated that compliance was unclear. If the company truly had a safety program, these required inspection would have been documented and audited to make sure the inspection were carried out. 

In 1985, the company, formerly known as West Chemical & Fertilizer, was cited five times by the federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration. Two of the violations were characterized as "serious," with one related to the storage and handling of anhydrous ammonia, federal records show. There were no records of OSHA fines in more recent years.”
Arial View of Devestation after Blast

So, we have at least three regulatory agencies overseeing the safety requirements of the plant. Texas Dept of Health, EPA, and OSHA. I also found it interesting that the article goes on to state, “A Common Way to Operate.” 

“Thousands of sites across rural America store potentially explosive materials and blend fertilizer for farmers, similar to West Fertilizer. In EPA reports, about 10,000 facilities say they store anhydrous ammonia.

Nitrogen-rich fertilizers help promote crop growth and are used by farms across the country.

Anhydrous ammonia is only flammable at temperatures exceeding 1,500 degrees F (816 C) and would not be expected to trigger such a massive blast, according to an expert.”

Keep in mind that in this plant there was not only anhydrous ammonia but also ammonia nitrate. The article end with these statements.

“Despite the fiery TV images and death toll from the blast, some in the fertilizer industry are not expecting calls for new restrictions on where and how such facilities can operate.

An estimated 6,500 farm retail stores in the United States blend, store or sell fertilizers to farmers, said Daren Coppock, chief executive of the Agricultural Retailers Association. The West Fertilizer plant is far from the only one near homes, he said.”

OK so some in the fertilizer industry are not expecting call for new restrictions on where or how such facilities can operate. What about the oversight of the safety requirements already in place. If the company had a Safety Management System in may NOT have prevented this accident. But, we certainly would have seen actions on the critical safety trail of control issues in the past. 

your thoughts.....


  1. Thank you Rupali, Please feel free to add your thoughts or comments. You can't have too much information when it comes to Safety.


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