Rad Law Firm is paying close attention to the events that occurred in West, Texas on April 17, 2013. A fire at the West Fertilizer Company led to a massive explosion that claimed the lives of 14 and injured 200 people. It leveled the area near the plant, including homes, a nursing home, and a middle school. Citizens are now being allowed to return home after law enforcement ruled out any criminality involved in the explosion.
The cause of the explosion is still unclear. Fertilizer production and storage comes with some risks. The West Texas plant stored both anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate (Washington Post). Anhydrous ammonia is a pungent gas with suffocating fumes. Depending on the length and intensity of exposure to humans, the gas can have mild to severe effects. Ammonium nitrate is a key ingredient in fertilizer and can explode if mixed with fuel and ignited. This is the same substance used in the Oklahoma City bombings. It should be noted that, in this industry, it is rare, but possible, for ammonium nitrate to cause explosions. There have been sixteen explosions worldwide since 1921.
Simply storing these substances in the plant is not a cause for question. However, there are serious questions about how this specific plant handles its hazardous materials. In 2006, investigators checked up on the report of a bad ammonia smell at the plant and discovered the company did not have proper permits, formal written maintenance plans or a proper risk management plan. The company never disclosed whether it had properly considered potential hazards of its work – this does not mean necessarily that the plant failed to do so. But there are no records to prove that it did. A Houston news outlet (KHOU-TV) located a document outlining the fertilizer company’s worst case scenario. The company reported that it believed the worst thing that could happen would be a storage tank leaking gas over a 10 minute period.
Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security requires companies to report to the agency when the company stores 400 pounds or more of ammonium nitrate, because of its explosive nature. Filings with the Texas Department of State Health Services show the West plant had 270 tons of it on hand last year. This is 1,350 times the amount of ammonium nitrate that normally triggers safety oversight by the DHS. But these filings were not shared with DHS.
The personal injury attorneys of Rad Law Firm will remain vigilant in looking to both the party in control of the premises (the West Fertilizer Company), but also the parties responsible for the inspection and regulation of such a fertilizer plant. As more information comes to light about the exact cause of the fire and explosion in West, Texas, it may be possible that the citizens that have lost life, family, property, and suffered injuries could have claims against whoever is responsible for the cause.
We aggressively represent victims of factory and plant explosions. If you or one of your loved ones have been injured or even died in one of these tragic accidents please call Rad Law Firm now. We offer completely free consultations by phone, email or live chat.