The Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion in West, Texas was a terrible tragedy that shook many communities to their cores. As the people of West, Texas try to pick up the pieces after one of the worst disasters in years, other Texas communities should really think about what can be done to prevent the next one, because there will be a next one.
Many Texans assume the state government regulates and oversees the use of volatile chemicals, but they would be wrong with that assumption. Compared with other states, regulations on fertilizer companies and on the storage of a number of dangerous chemicals are practically non-existent which increases the likelihood of another Texas fertilizer plant explosion. For example, Texas currently has no state agency that regulates ammonium nitrate safety at all. Because of this, such facilities are almost never visited by inspectors.
Texas is way behind other states when it comes to regulating explosive chemicals. For example, 46 out of 50 states have a fire code that deals specifically with ammonium nitrate, but Texas is one of the four without such a code. This, despite the fact that safety officials have known for years that regulations are the best protection against the unsafe handling of ammonium nitrate, which authorities know can blow up catastrophically under certain conditions. Just as important is that many other states are more aggressive when it comes to inspections and oversight than are Texas state officials.
Compare the state of Texas’ attitude toward the West Fertilizer plant with the attitude of other states. In California, it is inconceivable that such a plant would have been able to operate for years without a permit, or that they would have gone upwards of 20 years without any sort of safety inspection, and they would have taken a look at everything, from occupational safety to building codes. In states like Illinois and New York, a plant that was storing that much explosive material would have been subject to annual inspections.
It is believed that at least 27 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded at the plant in April. While the state was aware the plant was storing it because West Fertilizer officials reported it, the last time state officials had ever set foot at the plant was in 2006, when they finally made the company get a permit for the two ammonia tanks on the property.
There are hundreds of plants in Texas just like West Fertilizer, and many are a Texas fertilizer plant explosion just waiting to happen. It’s well past time for state government regulators to take a good look at this issue, and implement measures designed to prevent another West Fertilizer-type tragedy from happening again. The next time could be even worse.