Lessons Learned: West, TX, Blast

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 @ 04:02 PM gHale

A jarring video released describing the details behind the powerful blast and ensuing fire that claimed the lives of 15 people and injured 260 in West, TX, in April, 2013.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) released the safety video on the deadly fire and explosion that occurred when about 30 tons of fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate (FGAN) exploded after being heated by a fire at the West Fertilizer Company storage and distribution facility.

CSB: Safety Gaps Led to West Blast
After West Blast, New Protections
CT Firm Must Report Chemical Inventory
Chemical Spill Forces Water Plant Evac

The CSB’s 12-minute safety video entitled, “Dangerously Close: Explosion in West, Texas,” includes a 3D animation of the fire and explosion as well as interviews with CSB investigators and Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland.

“This tragic accident should not have happened,” Sutherland said. “We hope that this video, by sharing lessons learned from our West Fertilizer Company investigation, will help raise awareness of the hazards of fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate so that a similar accident can be avoided in the future.”

The CSB’s investigation found several factors contributed to the severity of the explosion, including poor hazard awareness and fact nearby homes and business were built in close proximity to the West Fertilizer Company over the years prior to the accident. The video explains there was a stockpile of 40 to 60 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at the facility in plywood bins on the night of the explosion. And although FGAN is stable under normal conditions, it can violently detonate when exposed to contaminants in a fire.

“We found that as the city of West crept closer and closer to the facility, the surrounding community was not made aware of the serious explosion hazard in their midst,” said Investigation Lead Johnnie Banks. “And the West Fertilizer Company underestimated the danger of storing fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate in ordinary combustible structures.”

The CSB investigation concluded this lack of awareness was due to several factors, including gaps in federal regulatory coverage of ammonium nitrate storage facilities. The video details safety recommendations made to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to strengthen their regulations to protect the public from hazards posed by FGAN.

The video also explains how inadequate emergency planning contributed to the tragic accident. The CSB found there was no requirement for the West Volunteer Fire Department to perform pre-incident planning for an ammonium nitrate-related emergency, nor were the volunteer firefighters required to attend training on responding to fires involving hazardous chemicals. As a result, the CSB made several safety recommendations to various stakeholders, including the EPA, to better inform and train emergency responders on the hazards of FGAN and other hazardous chemicals.

“The CSB’s goal is to ensure that no one else be killed or injured due to a lack of awareness of hazardous chemicals in their communities,” Sutherland said. “If adopted, the Board’s recommendations can help prevent disasters like the one in West, Texas.”

Click here to download the video.