West Fertilizer Plant Cited in 2006: Safety Record Investigated
As a number of government agencies conduct searches and continue to evacuate those living near the West Fertilizer Co. plant that exploded Wednesday night near Waco, there is more information coming out about the plant’s operation.
According to reports, the fertilizer plant was cited in June 2006 by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for failing to obtain or to qualify for a permit. It’s not clear how long the tanks had been unpermitted before then, but TCEQ officials launched an investigation after someone complained about a strong ammonia smell coming from the plant.
TCEQ permit reviewers noted in their report that the two 12,000 gallon tanks of anhydrous ammonia were located within 1,500 feet of a hospital, a nursing home and a middle school, and that there were residential areas very close, as well. As they went through the permitting process, West Fertilizer assured permit reviewers that emissions from the tanks would not pose a danger to anyone.
The company agreed to limit the amount of ammonia in each tank to 85% of capacity “to ensure maintainable vapor pressures.” It also assured the agency that it had a water spray system in place that would protect the community in case there was an accidental leak of ammonia. As a condition for the permit, the company was required to build a wall between the tanks and a public road, so that it wouldn’t be possible for vehicles to hit the tanks.
The EPA also took an interest in the company in 2006, fining them $2,300 for failing to have a risk management assessment plan that met federal standards. Later that year, the company submitted a plan, which included a promise to inspect the tanks for leaks at least once a day, and to follow all necessary safety procedures when transferring fertilizer into and out of the storage tanks. The company also told the EPA there was no risk of fire at the plant, and that the worst case scenario would be a “10-minute release of ammonia gas that would kill or injure no one.”
Because there had been no public comment on the operating permits, TCEQ issued them on Dec. 12, 2006.
Companies that keep dangerous chemicals on their premises are required to take every safety precaution possible to keep their workers, and everyone else nearby, safe. Whether or not West Fertilizer Co. and state agencies did their jobs properly is yet to be determined, but it’s an interesting question.
If you or a loved one was anywhere near this tragic plant when it exploded, and you are injured or hurt in any way, it is extremely important to seek medical attention now. If you have information related to this explosion, record it or report it to the authorities as soon as possible. If you have questions regarding your legal rights, contact the experienced Texas Explosion Lawyer at Hill Law Firm today.