A catastrophic explosion at West Fertilizer Company on April 17, 2013 killed 15 people and left more than 160 injured. Nearly three years later, little has been done to change the culture of negligence in the Texas chemical processing industry despite pressure from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) and efforts on the part of Texas legislators.
According to the CSB, no changes have been made to prevent companies from building these hazardous facilities near schools, nursing homes and other residential population centers. For those who have lost loved ones or who have been injured in industrial accidents, consulting with an attorney experienced in bringing such claims such as Burwell Nebout may represent the only way to hold these companies accountable.
CSB Report Shows Pattern of Safety Failures
The final report of the CSB regarding the West Fertilizer Company disaster comprises 265 pages and includes numerous descriptions of safety failures on the part of government agencies, fire safety officials and the company itself. While the exact cause for the deadly explosion has not yet been identified, improper storage of flammable materials close to a 30-ton stockpile ammonium nitrate was almost certainly a contributing factor in the incident. OSHA had not performed an inspection of West Fertilizer Company since 1985 and had cited the plant for improper storage of anhydrous ammonia at that time. In June 2012, however, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration did fine the company; once again, the citation was for the improper storage of anhydrous ammonia.
Insurance Companies More Proactive Than State and Federal Agencies
In 2009, the company that provided West Fertilizer Company with insurance for its chemical processing facilities dropped its coverage, citing faulty wiring in the fertilizer plants and a company-wide culture of disregard for safety issues. While the company did manage to obtain coverage from another insurer, there is little evidence that the new insurance company performed any safety inspections before offering coverage to West Fertilizer. As part of its recommendations, the CSB has asked the Texas Department of Insurance to require stricter underwriting and inspection policies in an effort to prevent another tragic chemical plant explosion in the future.
Location a Serious Concern
The CSB also noted that 19 Texas chemical processing facilities with large stockpiles of five or more tons of ammonium nitrate are located within half a mile of schools, nursing homes or hospitals. If just one of these facilities is involved in an explosion similar to the one that rocked West, Texas, the loss of life and degree of property damage could be devastating. CSB investigators pointed to poor community planning and failure to consider safety issues when implementing zoning policies as the primary contributing factors to added public risks in these areas.
Resistance From Corporations and Legislators Alike
Despite efforts by watchdog consumer groups and public safety officials alike, both the chemical processing industry and the Texas legislature have been slow to move on the recommendations offered by the CSB and other federal agencies. An initiative designed to prohibit the storage of ammonium nitrate in flammable containers was voted down by Texas legislators. These elected officials did allow for the inspection of plants that use ammonium nitrate by fire officials and the assessment of fines for violations of safety codes in these facilities. The lack of progress made since the West Fertilizer Company chemical plant explosion is disheartening.
More must be done to protect public safety and to ensure the well-being of workers at these facilities. In many cases, enlisting the help of an experienced industrial accident attorney can be the most effective method of holding these companies responsible for their failure to make safety a priority in their chemical processing operations. Call us today if you have any questions about a claim related to a petrochemical plant or refinery explosion.