West, TX — The fertilizer plant that exploded on Wednesday failed to report explosive chemicals to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The plant was storing 1,350 times that allowable amount of ammonium nitrate without required safety checks. A source familiar with the federal agency explained that the plant’s owner failed to tell the DHS it was holding a large amount of the chemical compound widely used in explosives.
Fertilizer plants and depots are required to self-report when they have more than 400 pounds of ammonium nitrate. The chemical is tightly regulated, because of its widespread use in explosives.
But it appears that West Fertilizer Co. failed to do so. At the time of the blast, the Texas Department of State Health Services showed that the plant held at least 540,000 pounds of ammonium at the time of the deadly explosion. Because the company failed to self-report its chemicals to the DHS, the agency was unaware of any danger in West, Texas before the blast on Wednesday.
A US congressman and several safety experts have called into question whether either incomplete disclosure or a regulatory gridlock may have contributed to the disaster, which killed 14 people and wounded more than 200. Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS), a ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, stated:
“It seems this manufacturer was willfully off the grid. This facility was known to have chemicals well above the threshold amount to be regulated under the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards Act (CFATS), yet we understand that DHS did not even know the plant existed until it blew up.”
Company officials have not made any comments on the situation, besudes a general statement released by the plant’s owner, Donald Adair, on Friday. Adair apologized for the tragedy the incident caused, but added that West Fertilizer Co. is cooperating with investigators. Adair added, “This tragedy will continue to hurt deeply for generations to come.”
The DHS has the ability to fine or close down fertilizer operations if they fail to report significant volumes of hazardous chemicals. But while the agency has the ability to carry out spot inspections, they have a small budget and a limited number of field auditors.
Firms, like West Fertilizer Co., are responsible for reporting the volumes themselves. The DHS then helps measure the plant’s risks. They can also devise security and safety plans based on the risks and how much of each volatile chemical the plant has. But the agency never received this information from the Texas fertilizer company.
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