Lawmaker: Texas fertilizer plant ‘was willfully off the grid’
The fertilizer plant in West, Texas that exploded on Wednesday ignored federal regulations in failing to report that it was storing 1,350 times the amount of ammonium nitrate required to prompt oversight by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Reuters reported on Saturday, prompting the ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security to accuse it of shirking its obligation.
“It seems this manufacturer was willfully off the grid,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, (D-MS) 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.”
Records from the Texas Department of State Health Services showed the facility stored 270 tons of ammonium nitrate as recently as last year. Homeland Security regulations require fertlizer plants to notify federal officials if they hold more than 400 pounds. But according to Reuters, neither state authorities nor officials at West Fertilizer shared their findings with DHS.
“The West Fertilizer Co. facility in West, Texas is not currently regulated under the CFATS program,” said DHS spokesperson Peter Boogaard.
Ammonium nitrate was the primary component used in Timothy McVeigh’s bombing attack on the federal courthouse in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 1995, prompting tighter federal regulations making it difficult to locate a seller.
While authorities continue to investigate the explosion, a local explosion and pipeline safety expert, Don Deaver, told KFAA-TV on Friday that the explosion, which has been linked to at least 14 deaths, was likely triggered by the fire that took place shortly before the blast.
“If you have ammonium nitrate inside of a building that comes into contact with this type of heat, you are going to have an explosion,” Deaver said. “I mean, it’s the perfect storm for an explosion. You’ve got the ignition source, you’ve got the heat, and the hotter it is the more explosive it is.”
Watch KFAA’s report on the aftermath of the fatal explosion, aired Friday, below.
[Image via U.S. Department of Agriculture official Flickr account]