West Fertilizer Co. underestimates danger in federal documents

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by Jeremy Rogalski / I-Team

khou.com

Posted on April 18, 2013 at 6:57 PM

Updated Friday, Apr 19 at 10:02 AM

WEST, Texas -- The company at the center of Wednesday’s devastating accident near West, Texas once told the federal government that such an explosion was not a possibility.

That’s what the KHOU 11 News I-Team found when reviewing risk management papers filed with the EPA by the West Fertilizer Company.

All companies that handle toxic chemicals in America are required to file a plan which includes details on past accidents, prevention programs and emergency response programs.

The plan also requires that companies outline a “worst-case scenario,” and forecast potential injury estimates and health concerns to the surrounding community.

However, in a summary of West Fertilizer’s risk management filing, the company said the worst that could happen was not an explosion, but merely the “contents of a storage tank released as a gas over 10 minutes.”

Tragically, the risk plan turned out to be wrong. The storage tank’s contents, anhydrous ammonia, exploded with the force of a small earthquake. Emergency dispatchers scrambled to send units to the scene.

“We have many people down, please respond,” one law enforcement officer was heard on dispatch audio provided by RadioReference.com.

“You have deputies, you have fire, you have EMS, I'm sending everybody I got," the dispatcher answered.

At another point, a fire official on scene is heard shouting: “'Everybody needs to get away from there. Back all the trucks away from the fire scene. Everybody needs to back off with all the anhydrous tanks, everybody needs to get away.”

In environmental permit applications, West Fertilizer Co. had promised “all storage tanks will be inspected once a day to ensure there are no (anhydrous ammonia) leaks.”

In addition, government records show that in 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency fined the company $2300 for failing to have a risk plan that met federal standards.

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