The preliminary report has been released by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board on the West fertilizer plant explosion last April. The report indicates multiple levels of failures at every branch of government – mostly within the state.
It alludes to the fact that outdated and lax state and local regulations contributed to the unsafe and volatile storage of ammonium nitrate (AN) at the West fertilizer plant. It states that there are hundreds of these types of facilities in Texas that are unsafe.
Texas has not adopted a statewide fire code, and state law actually prohibits most smaller rural counties from adopting a fire code. McLennan County, where the West facility was located, had not adopted a fire code although it technically had the authority to do so because of its proximity to the more populous Bell County.
The West fertilizer facility was thus not required to follow any National Fire Protection Association or International Code Council recommendations for the storage of AN. No federal, state or local standards have been identified that restrict the siting of ammonium nitrate storage facilities in the vicinity of homes, schools, businesses and health care facilities.
West volunteer firefighters were not made aware of the explosion hazard from the AN and therefore were poorly trained to handle this type of fire. There is no indication that West’s filing with local authorities resulted in an effort to plan for an ammonium nitrate emergency.
In order to prevent such disasters that take lives, damage livelihoods and destroy schools that need tax dollars to repair, we need stronger regulations. I think this message is loud and clear, Texas lawmakers, regulatory industries and especially, Tea Partiers and Republicans.
Where does Wise County stand on its authority to adopt the statewide fire codes that might protect our volunteer firefighters, schools, infrastructure and tax dollars from the local facilities that store AN?
Tracy A. Smith