The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Fertilizer Company Explosion:
Accident or Crime?

Apr 29, 2013

On Wednesday, April 17, a fire broke out at the West Fertilizer Company in West, Texas, a working class farming town of close to 3,000 people. The explosion that erupted was so strong, it registered as an earthquake and was heard and felt for miles around. It destroyed or heavily damaged an apartment complex, three nearby schools, and a nursing home where elderly residents were pulled out and sent to hospitals. It also destroyed houses within a radius of several blocks. The explosion left a crater 93 feet wide and 10 feet deep.

Within hours, 14 people were killed, mostly firefighters and other first responders and two residents living nearby. The toll of people injured has reached 200.

The exact cause is still not certain. However, considering that the plant stores and distributes large amounts of two potentially explosive chemicals – ammonium nitrate and anhydrous ammonia – and considering the abysmal record of West Fertilizer on health and safety issues, it is not shocking this happened.

Here is a partial list of safety violations:

  • The last OSHA inspection was in 1985, 28 years ago. Serious violations at that time included improper storage of anhydrous ammonia and unsatisfactory respiratory protection for workers. Penalty: $30 fine.
  • June 2006: Residents complained about a “very bad ammonia smell.” It took eleven days for Texas inspectors to show up. They discovered West Fertilizer had been operating for two years without an air quality permit. Once the company got the permit, inspectors never went back.
  • 2006: The EPA fined the company for not having a risk management plan in place. Year after year, West Fertilizer failed to meet standards for such a plan.
  • 2012: The company reported it stored 110,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia and reported for the first time it stored 540,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate. (The 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma federal building used a small fraction of that amount of ammonium nitrate.) It was fined $5,250 for improper labeling of storage tanks.
  • 2013: After the explosion, investigators found no sprinklers or fire barriers at the plant.

And West Fertilizer is not the only company in town with a poor safety record!

Even after this horrendous explosion, federal, state and local authorities and Governor Rick Perry take a casual attitude toward inspections and regulations.

Isn’t it criminal to put business and profit first, at whatever the cost? This time they practically destroyed an entire town, killing 14 people and injuring 200 others. And that’s not criminal?!

No, in this profit-focused society, the criminal IS “par for the course.”