Jan 29, 2016– The US Chemical Safety Board today released an informational video about the deadly West Fertilizer plant explosion that took place in West, Texas which resulted in 15 fatalities, 260 injuries, and widespread community damage. The deadly fire and explosion occurred when about thirty tons of fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate (FGAN) exploded after being heated by a fire at the storage and distribution facility. This incident highlights the precautions that need to be taken while storing chemicals safely, especially in large quantities and that too close to production facilities, as well as residential areas. (For an excellent training on Chemical Warehouse Safety, please see this)
“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.
Chairperson Sutherland said, “This tragic accident should not have happened. 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 that several factors contributed to the severity of the explosion, including poor hazard awareness and fact that nearby homes and business were built in close proximity to the West Fertilizer Company over the years prior to the accident. The video explains that 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.
In the video, Team Lead Johnnie Banks says, “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. And the West Fertilizer Company underestimated the danger of storing fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate in ordinary combustible structures.”
The CSB investigation concludes that 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 OSHA and the EPA to strengthen their regulations to protect the public from hazards posed by FGAN.
Finally, the video explains how inadequate emergency planning contributed to the tragic accident. The CSB found that the West Volunteer Fire Department was not required 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.
Here is a photo uploaded by Shane Torgerson from his plane (Wikimedia Commons)