CSB: Safety Gaps Led to West Blast

Wednesday, January 27, 2016 @ 12:01 PM gHale

Gaps in safety practices, regulations and training all played into the disaster at the West, TX, fertilizer explosion, a final report concluded.

The April 17, 2013 blast claimed 15 lives, injured hundreds of people and caused extensive damage to homes, schools and other structures. West Fertilizer Company (WFC) filed for bankruptcy after the explosion.

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“The WFC explosion is one of the most destructive incidents ever investigated by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation,” the report said.

The Chemical Safety Board (CSB) said combustibles stored near the fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate fueled the fire and likely resulted in the detonation.

In addition, the report findings claim emergency responders did not have enough training to make an informed decision on how to best respond to the fire at the fertilizer plant.

Lessons from previous fertilizer fires elsewhere did not end up shared with volunteer fire departments, such as West, according to the CSB. In addition, firefighters didn’t do pre-incident planning or response training to fertilizer related incidents because there was no such regulatory requirement.

Insurance findings listed in the report mention the insurer did not renew the West Fertilizer Company commercial property policy in 2010 because the company didn’t comply with the insurer’s safety recommendations.

In terms of regulatory findings, the CSB states the Occupational Safety and Health Administration omitted ammonium nitrate from the list of highly hazardous materials, toxics and reactives.

The board found there is still a risk to the public in Texas from a catastrophic incident. For instance, 19 facilities storing fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate are within 0.5 miles of a school, hospital or nursing home, according to the report.

Law enforcement has not determined the cause of the fire that prompted the explosion.