Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How did West, Texas, Fertilizer Plant Avoid Inspection with 270 tons of Ammonium Nitrate Stored in 2012?

Last year West, TX, fertilizer plant was storing 1,350 times the amount of ammonium nitrate that would normally trigger safety oversight by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

When the news of the explosion at the fertilizer plant came across, I had a hard time fathoming such an explosion as I have seen grain elevators catch on fire and storage facilities go up, but this was like a massive bomb going off that seemed more intense then the Murrah Bombing in Oklahoma City.
A Ryder truck packed with the substance(ammonium nitrate) mixed with fuel oil exploded to raze the Oklahoma federal building in 1995. Another liquid gas fertilizer kept on the West Fertilizer site, anhydrous ammonia, is subject to DHS reporting and can explode under extreme heat.
How much ammonium nitrate was used in the OKC Bombing?
On September 30, 1994, Nichols bought forty 50-pound (23 kg) bags of ammonium nitrate from Mid-Kansas Coop in McPherson, Kansas, this would be enough to fertilize 4.25 acres of farmland at a rate of 160 pounds of nitrogen per acre; an amount commonly used for corn {2000 pounds of AN divided by (160 lb/acre divided by 0.34 lb N/lb AN) equals 4.25 acres}. Nichols bought an additional 50-pound (23 kg) bag on October 18, 1994.
Bob Daemmerich / AFP / Getty
Devastation  A truck bomb made with more than 5,000 lb. (about 2,300 kg) 
of explosive-grade ammonium nitrate fertilizer ripped off the north side of 
the Albert P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. 
The blast killed 168 people, including 19 children

At the most, McVeigh used 5,000lb of ammonium nitrate fertilizer while this West, Texas, plant stored 270 tons.  That defies belief.  Will someone please tell me how that amount of ammonium nitrate being stored that was reported to the TEXAS Department of Health did not trigger an inspection as they relied on the owner's words?

This is what happens when you fail to follow the rules and a fire ignites leading to this explosion which pretty much leveled half a town.  What does the State of Texas do?  Immediately asked President Obama to declare an emergency declaration to get help into the state.  This article is not about the people who have been impacted but the audacity of TX Republican elected officials like Governor Perry, Senators Cornyn and Cruz and others who immediately wanted aid but in Congress voted against aid for Hurricane Sandy for the east coast.  Then there is the Governor with the big mouth who has done nothing but trash this President.  I think this graphic I was sent of Governor Perry fits this post:

This huge explosion was felt for miles in different directions.  It pretty much leveled or damaged many parts of the small town of West, Texas.  The people of West deserve all the help we can give them.  After that, I went to see a bill sent to the the State of Texas on behalf of the US Taxpayers for Federal dollars spent on this disaster.  Taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for Texas not overseeing this plant and reporting to the Department of Homeland Security the huge amount of ammonium nitrate that was stored at the facility in 2012 in violation of regulations.  The buck stops at Governor Perry:
In Texas, the reports are collected by the Department of State Health Services. Over the last seven years, according to reports West Fertilizer filed, 2012 was the only time the company stored ammonium nitrate at the facility.   
It reported having 270 tons on site.
How could reporting 270 tons not send off every red flag in the Texas Department of State Health Services.  When you start questioning why they had this amount on ammonium nitrate on site stored in unmarked storage tanks with no emergency management plan filed with the local fire department, you realize the firemen did not know what they were dealing with and poured water on the fire which is a huge mistake:
I work at a Coast Guard approved petrochemical plant on the Houston Ship Channel and have been in the petrochemical biz for about 11 years. Here is what we noticed when we reviewed the footage of the guys fighting the fire before the explosion... 
First, it is hard to tell from the footage but we believe that the volunteer fire fighters are using just water from a nearby hydrant to fight this fire.
That is a MAJOR no-no, since the fertilizer plant is probably full of ammonia oxidizers and other chemicals that are inhalation hazards. Basic water could have actually CAUSED the explosion. 
They should have used foam or powder based extinguishing materials....NOT water from a hydrant. 
We were wondering if this small town fire department has had proper haz-mat training to know how to handle fires with oxidizers and inhalation hazard materials? I am pretty sure they know how to handle haz-mat, like spilled gas or diesel fuels but those are class 3 flammables and handled VERY differently in a fire situation.
This person was replying to the disinformation on the site and what CNN was saying.  CNN had an extremely poor record last week of getting ahead of facts in rushing to be first to report.  Then there is this from a hazardous chemical consulting firm in Ohio:

It reported having 270 tons on site.
"That's just a god awful amount of ammonium nitrate," said Bryan Haywood, the owner of a hazardous chemical consulting firm in Milford, Ohio. "If they were doing that, I would hope they would have gotten outside help." 

In response to a request from Reuters, Haywood, who has been a safety engineer for 17 years, reviewed West Fertilizer's Tier II sheets from the last six years. He said he found several items that should have triggered the attention of local emergency planning authorities—most notably the sudden appearance of a large amount of ammonium nitrate in 2012. 
"As a former HAZMAT coordinator, that would have been a red flag for me," said Haywood, referring to hazardous materials. 
Cannot get past the very idea that the owner of this plant stored this many chemicals in 2012 and had not done so before.  Who owned the chemicals and why in 2012 did he store so many chemicals?  Both of those questions need answers not rhetoric.

When fire broke out at West Fertilizer Co., the first responders from the West Volunteer Fire Department faced a tough choice.
They could fight the blaze to try to stop it from spreading, or retreat and evacuate people from nearby apartments and a nursing home. 
"That is your basic fight-or-flight decision when you get there," said Stephen Cook, chief training officer for the McLennan Community College Fire Academy in nearby Waco. "And you don't know how much time you've got" 
Upping the ante in the minutes before the Wednesday night explosion was what the plant contained - ammonium nitrate and anhydrous ammonia, both key ingredients in some fertilizers, which can be tricky when exposed to fire and the water used to fight it.
Without a plan in place to know what chemicals were stored, this rural fire department of volunteers chose to fight the fire and in some instances lost their lives when the chemicals blew up which led to this scene of horror:

The wreckage of a fertilizer plant burns after an explosion at the plant in the town
 of West, near Waco, Texas early April 18, 2013. The deadly explosion ripped
through the fertilizer plant late on Wednesday, injuring more than 160 people,
leveling dozens of homes and damaging other buildings including a school and
nursing home, authorities said. (Reuters/Mike Stone)

Texas's Fertilizer Plant Explosion |

Last week, while media attention was focused on Boston, a massive explosion took place at the West Fertilizer Company, in the small town of West, Texas. The blast damaged 150 buildings, including three of West's four schools, killed 14 people and injured more than 160 others. It was so powerful that it set off seismographs, registering as a 2.1-magnitude tremor. The cause remains unknown, and investigators are still sifting through the rubble. Today, about 1,500 West students returned to school, set up in makeshift classrooms or in nearby districts. [40 photos]
The basic questions remain on why was this West Fertilizer Plant storing these amounts of chemicals and why didn't the State of Texas act?  We all know the the Republicans in Congress have been holding up and cutting funds for agencies like the EPA, Homeland Security, and others who are the regulatory arms of the Government.  You would think this would wake them up but not going to happen as they will most likely find Democrats to blame as most Republican elected officials refuse to take the blame for anything in today's world.

Texas Fertilizer Plant Didn't Heed Disclosure Rules Before Blast
Published: Monday, 22 Apr 2013 | 9:24 AM ET
Getty Image   Smoke still rises from the rubble 
of a house next to the fertilizer plant that exploded 
yesterday afternoon on April 18, 2013 in West, Texas.
The fertilizer plant that exploded on Wednesday, obliterating part of a small Texas town and killing at least 14 people, had last year been storing 1,350 times the amount of ammonium nitrate that would normally trigger safety oversight by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Yet a person familiar with DHS operations said the company that owns the plant, West Fertilizer, did not tell the agency about the potentially explosive fertilizer as it is required to do, leaving one of the principal regulators of ammonium nitrate—which can also be used in bomb-making—unaware of any danger there. 
Fertilizer plants and depots must report to the DHS when they hold 400 lb (180 kg) or more of the substance. Filings this year with the Texas Department of State Health Services, which weren't shared with DHS, show the plant had 270 tons of it on hand last year. 
(Read More: Back Home, Residents Return to Texas After Blast
A U.S. congressman and several safety experts called into question on Friday whether incomplete disclosure or regulatory gridlock may have contributed to the disaster. 
"It seems this manufacturer was willfully off the grid," Rep. Bennie Thompson, (D-MS), ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said in a statement. "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."   
Failure to report significant volumes of hazardous chemicals at a site can lead the DHS to fine or shut down fertilizer operations, a person familiar with the agency's monitoring regime said. Though the DHS has the authority to carry out spot inspections at facilities, it has a small budget for that and only a "small number" of field auditors, the person said.
Firms are responsible for self reporting the volumes of ammonium nitrate and other volatile chemicals they hold to the DHS, which then helps measure plant risks and devise security and safety plans based on them. 
Since the agency never received any so-called top-screen report from West Fertilizer, the facility was not regulated or monitored by the DHS under its CFAT standards, largely designed to prevent sabotage of sites and to keep chemicals from falling into criminal hands. 
The DHS focuses "specifically on enhancing security to reduce the risk of terrorism at certain high-risk chemical facilities," said agency spokesman Peter Boogaard. "The West Fertilizer Co. facility in West, Texas is not currently regulated under the CFATS program." 
An expert in chemical safety standards said the two major federal government programs that are supposed to ensure chemical safety in industry—led by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)—do not regulate the handling or storage of ammonium nitrate. That task falls largely to the DHS and the local and state agencies that oversee emergency planning and response. 
More than 4,000 sites nationwide are subject to the DHS program. 
"This shows that the enforcement routine has to be more robust, on local, state and federal levels," said the expert, Sam Mannan, director of process safety center at Texas A&M University. "If information is not shared with agencies, which appears to have happened here, then the regulations won't work." 
Hodgepodge of Regulation 
Chemical safety experts and local officials suspect this week's blast was caused when ammonium nitrate was set ablaze. Authorities suspect the disaster was an industrial accident, but haven't ruled out other possibilities. 
The fertilizer is considered safe when stored properly, but can explode at high temperatures and when it reacts with other substances. 
"I strongly believe that if the proper safeguards were in place, as are at thousands of (DHS) CFATS-regulated plants across the country, the loss of life and destruction could have been far less extensive," said Rep. Thompson. 
A blaze was reported shortly before a massive explosion leveled dozens of homes and blew out an apartment building. 

Apart from the DHS, the West Fertilizer site was subject to a hodgepodge of regulation by the EPA, OSHA, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Texas Department of State Health Services, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Office of the Texas State Chemist. 
But the material is exempt from some mainstays of U.S. chemicals safety programs. For instance, the EPA's Risk Management Program (RMP) requires companies to submit plans describing their handling and storage of certain hazardous chemicals. Ammonium nitrate is not among the chemicals that must be reported.
In its RMP filings, West Fertilizer reported on its storage of anhydrous ammonia and said that it did not expect a fire or explosion to affect the facility, even in a worst-case scenario. And it had not installed safeguards such as blast walls around the plant.
Excerpt:  Read More at CNBC
Aerial view of the damage left behind by a massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Company, on April 18, 2013. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Look at that picture above and then realize that this plant has not had a thorough inspection in 35 years according to this excerpted article form Huffington Post:

West Fertilizer Plant's Hazards Eluded Regulators For Nearly 30 Years
Posted:   |  Updated: 04/23/2013 12:10 pm EDT
Through interviews with former regulators and community leaders, as well as a review of hundreds of pages of documents going back to 1976, a sense emerges that no institution sounded the alarm here, even as fertilizer piled up inside the plant, creating a potentially deadly tinderbox in close proximity to the town. No one effectively prepared for the emergency that eventually materialized, leaving this community uniquely vulnerable to the tragedy that unfolded last week when the plant caught fire and exploded, killing 14 people and ripping apart an apartment building, a school and dozens of homes. 
In June 2011 -- less than two years before the explosion -- the private company that owns the plant, the West Fertilizer Co., filed an emergency response plan with the Environmental Protection Agency stating that there was "no" risk of fire or explosion at the facility. The worst scenario that plant officials acknowledged was the possible release of a small amount of ammonia gas into the atmosphere. 
Fertilizer long has been recognized as a dangerous combustible material. One variety, ammonium nitrate -- a pellet-shaped product typically shipped in large bags -- caused the deadliest industrial accident in American history, the explosion of a ship at the port of Texas City in 1947, which took the lives of more than 500 people. 
Documents reviewed by The Huffington Post indicate that the last time regulators performed a full safety inspection of the facility was nearly 28 years ago. The entity with primary authority to ensure workplace safety, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, last visited in 1985, according to OSHA records
Since then, regulators from other agencies have been inside the plant, but they looked only at certain aspects of plant operations, such as whether the facility was abiding by labeling rules when packaging its fertilizer for sale. 
The most recent partial safety inspection at West Fertilizer was in 2011. That inspection, by the U.S Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Commission, led to a $5,200 fine for a variety of infractions, including failing to draft a safety plan for the transport of the large canisters of pressurized anhydrous ammonia stored on site.
In 2006, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the primary enforcer of environmental law in the state, noted that two schools were situated within 3,000 feet of the fertilizer plant. But the agency determined that "the impact potential" of an accident on the neighboring community "was low." 
When assessing risks at the plant, the commission and the EPA focused solely on the potential hazards of the ammonium canisters, such as whether they were stored correctly or were leaking. The agencies did not inspect to see if other chemicals on hand might ignite and explode.
"There is really no safety assessment of these facilities when there should be," said Neil Carman, who for more than a decade inspected facilities like West Fertilizer while working for the Texas commission, before joining the Sierra Club, the national environmental advocacy organization. 
Neither Donald Adair, the plant's owner, nor Ted Uptmore, its manager, could be reached for comment. Adair released a statement on Friday, writing: "My heart is broken with grief for the tragic losses to so many families in our community." He added that "the tragedy will continue to hurt deeply for generations to come." 
Excerpt:  Read More at The Huffington Post
How many other plants like this are storing chemicals with no real plans or have had few inspections due to the fact that the agencies involved have had their budgets cut to the bone and now face furloughs of their inspectors.

When is the Republican obstruction with underfunding some of these agencies who are here to protect our health and safety going to stop.  Have GOP elected officials  have been so bought by their wealthy donors like the Koch Bros who want no inspections, they don't seem to know right from wrong today? How many more deaths to we have to have caused by their stubbornness in passing funding bills for these agencies.  Yet mention defense, and their wallets come out to fully fund the DoD and their defense industry donors.  There is so much waste at DoD that anyone who has been involved with defense knows the real facts.  Facts don't matter to Republican elected officials today - it is making sure they vote "NO" like their big donors/lobbyists want on key issues like background checks and gun trafficking, regulations to protect the healthy and safety of people, regulations on oil and gas, etc.

GOP has done a good job over the years make the EPA the bogeyman - I swallowed some of that koolaid but no more.  I want a fully functioning EPA, Homeland Security, OSHA, FDA and any other agency that is responsible for insuring that companies are required to follow strict regulations.  If you run a company according to the rules, you wouldn't have to worry.  That tells a lot of us that the Koch Bros cut corners and don't care what happens to people as long as their vast empire keeps growing with an aim to control government for their own selfish interests.

This is just another reason in a long list to vote out Republicans in 2014 and elect candidates to restore some sanity to the halls of Congress so the Country can move forward from the obstructionists!

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama will attend Thursday’s memorial service for victims of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas.

“After the formal opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, the President and First Lady will travel to Baylor University in Waco, Texas to attend the memorial service for those lost and injured in the deadly explosion at the fertilizer plant,” a White House aide said Monday afternoon.
White House press secretary Jay Carney announced the visit moments later at his daily briefing.

Obama will attend the Bush Center event with four living ex-presidents.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure that those complaining about no "blast walls" realize that the blast wall design means NO WALLS but rather panels that blow out, releasing the explosive pressure before it builds up into a dangerous blast pressure wave