The City of West, Texas, has filed a lawsuit against the owner of the fertilizer plant that was the site of an explosion in April that resulted in 15 deaths and tens of millions in property damage. Also named in the lawsuit is CF Industries, the manufacturer of the ammonium nitrate that fueled the blast. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has turned down the request by the State of Texas for a major disaster declaration, which would have allowed federal funds to rebuild a destroyed school and damaged utility infrastructure. The city estimates that it has more than $17 million in uninsured losses from the explosion and seeks an unspecified amount of damages from the Defendants.
Senator Barbara Boxer, D-California, is working in the Senate to strengthen oversight of facilities that handle and store large amounts of ammonium nitrate. A U.S. Senate Committee headed by Sen. Boxer is probing regulatory agencies regarding oversight lapses. As our readers may already know, ammonium nitrate has explosive potential under the right conditions. Sen. Boxer has called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to immediately amend its risk management program to include such reactive chemicals on the list of hazardous substances that require procedures and safeguards to minimize the risk of explosion.
According to Dr. M. Sam Mannan, a Texas A&M chemical engineering professor, the disaster could have been prevented if the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had inspected the fertilizer plant and found it was not in compliance with its regulations on storing explosive chemicals. Among the requirements were sprinkler systems and fire walls separating the chemicals from combustible materials. West Fertilizer had neither.
In the city’s lawsuit, it’s claimed the ammonium nitrate, manufactured by CF Industries, “was unreasonably dangerous and defective” and that West Fertilizer was negligent in safely storing the chemical. A statement issued by the manufacturer said the company will seek dismissal of the lawsuit.
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