West Fertilizer Neighbors May Not Have Known of Explosive Chemicals, but Meth Cooks Did

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Investigators still haven't determined the official cause of the fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15 people and injured at least 200 others in West last month, but all signs point to the large quantities of highly explosive ammonium nitrate that were stored there.

What's also become clear is that neighbors by and large weren't aware of the danger the fertilizer plant posed. At a hearing in the Texas legislature this week, a parade of state agencies testified that it wasn't their responsibility to inform residents that 270 tons of ammonium nitrate, enough to level a good chunk of the town, was stored nearby. Similarly, West Mayor Tommy Muska has said that, because the plant was outside the city limits, local officials had no control.

Despite the gaping regulatory holes, however, there was at least one class of people who were keenly aware of the dangerous chemicals at West Fertilizer: meth cooks. Reuters reports:

Police responded to at least 11 reports of burglaries and five separate ammonia leaks at West Fertilizer Co over the past 12 years, according to 911 dispatch logs and criminal offense reports Reuters obtained from the McLennan County Sheriff's office in Waco, Texas through an Open Records Request.

Some of the leaks, including one reported in October 2012, were linked to theft or interference with tank valves.

According to one 2002 crime report, a plant manager told police that intruders were stealing four to five gallons of anhydrous ammonia every three days. The liquid gas can be used to cook methamphetamine, the addictive and illicit stimulant.

In rural areas across the United States, the thriving meth trade has turned storage facilities like West Fertilizer Co and even unattended tanks in farm fields into frequent targets of theft, according to several government and fertilizer industry reports issued over the past 13 years.

Every indication right now is that negligence and a Swiss cheese regulatory framework, not meth heads, are responsible for the blast. The anhydrous ammonia they were stealing has been ruled out as a cause of the blast. And every indication is that some state agency needs to be charged with overseeing and raising public awareness of sites like West Fertilizer so that homes and schools aren't built nearby. It's probably best not to leave it up to the meth cooks.

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35 comments
Maricela Ann Vilchis
Maricela Ann Vilchis

yes, typical and I'm sure management ignored it when it was reported, wait till something serious happens so that we don't have to spend money

SandraFluke
SandraFluke

WARNING: Side-effects of listening to Obummer reading from a teleprompter may include drowsiness, blurred vision, neuropathy, ennui and a haunting sense of buyer's remorse.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

3 to 5 pounds... bt at atmospheric pressu re, it gases of immed. Cannot be transported. This report is worse than crap. It is misdirection by morons.

A sad day for any real forensic investigation. I bet Ricky sent the same cretins who did the Willingham "arson". How proud I am of tx.

Merde.

Jaborah
Jaborah

As long as I get my free birth control pills what difference does it make?

Richard Elphick
Richard Elphick

You also need the lithium strip from a battery, sounds healthy huh???

Richard Elphick
Richard Elphick

Ammonium Nitrate is what exploded. Anhydrous ammonia which was first reported to have caused the explosion can't really go off like that but is used to make meth along with those sudafeds you need ID to buy. And yea, there were lots of both...

keithdylan
keithdylan

I heard in another report they had no fence or security guard?  So remind me again why Sudafed is behind the counter and I have to show an ID to buy it?

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

4 to 5 gals every three days? With no proof or arrests, that sounds like leaks or pressure bleed off. Is this the engineering brain trust at that plant? '96 Aggies?

Nancy Moore
Nancy Moore

And I have to show my I.D. to buy a 5 ounce bottle of CHILDREN'S Pseudophed. I don't mind showing my I.D. But if we can do that, can't we do better?

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

I'm shocked, just shocked I say, to find out that methheads have been stealing anhydrous ammonia.


Regardless of this, there has been no information released on where the fire started.


A likely cause for the detonation can be summarized as follows:


"Ammonium nitrate decomposes in temperatures normally well above 200 °C.(1)However the presence of impurities (organic and/or inorganic) will often reduce the temperature point when heat is being generated. Once the AN has started to decompose, then a runaway reaction will normally occur as the heat of decomposition is very large. AN evolves so much heat that this runaway reaction is normally impossible to stop."

 (1) 200C = ~425F.  A temperature of 425F is readily obtained by the combustion of wood and paper products.

From:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ammonium_nitrate

The thermal decomposition of Ammonium nitrate is exothermic, hence the self sustaining reaction that may lead to detonation if the mass of non - decomposing Ammonium nitrate is sufficiently large.

ChrisDangerShow
ChrisDangerShow

Sad to say, Texas deserves to be in the crosshairs right now. Our right-tilting government from Good Hair down to local officials have been lax in multiple aspects of protecting the public. This disaster, sadly, brings all of the bad management to light. I can only hope this disaster is a catalyst for real change in this state, one that makes not only business take responsibility for their actions, but government as well..

PersistentID2345
PersistentID2345

Anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate are different compounds. Anhydrous ammonia (ammonia without water), is a dangerous, corrosive gas. It is, on the other hand, generally considered non-flammable with a 'slight' chance of explosive hazard:

http://www.agriumwholesale.com/includes/msds/AA820000MSDS.pdf

Here is the scoop on ammonia from the CDC:

http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/phs/phs.asp?id=9&tid=2

Ammonia is widely produced for a variety of uses:

http://tinyurl.com/cjbd88o

This article  argues that more regulation should be imposed because a criminal sector was stealing a common non-related hazardous substance from an industrial accident location.

The Federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act already contains measures that coordinate federal, state and local agencies in order to provide public notice regarding extremely hazardous substances such as ammonia and ammonium nitrate. So the inquiry should be toward the effectiveness of its implementation in light of this incident:

http://www.dentonrc.com/local-news/local-news-headlines/20130502-reports-show-ammonium-nitrate-stores.ece



whocareswhatithink
whocareswhatithink

Sigh.....The plant was there BEFORE the schools and buildings...here is what happens when schools are so close to this, the govt buys land cheap to build schools, regardless of what is around and then when accidents like this happen, they blame these companies. Becuase this plant had been around for many years, many regulations are "grandfathered" in, otherwise plants would have to keep closing and thus losing jobs as opposed to what it is like to build a plant with todays regulations.  You build/buy a house or a school next to any type of chemical plant, the only guarantee you have...is someday, something will most likely go wrong. Big or Small.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

It looks as if everyone from OOPS on down has joined the stampede away from responsibility.

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@keithdylan We should count ourselves lucky.  The were seriously considering restricting access to baking soda

PersistentID2345
PersistentID2345

@ChrisDangerShowThis disaster, predictably, brings initial unsupported innuendo to light before conclusions are reached based upon a methodological analysis.

bifftannen
bifftannen

@whocareswhatithink Yes, those jobs were more important and valuable than the people who died. Stellar argument!

Daniel
Daniel

@PersistentID2345 @ChrisDangerShow True, true. Until further evidence comes in, I will choose to assume the West explosion was the result of GOOD management. And also the result of a regulatory environment that puts the public's best interest at the fore. Thirdly, it was the result of ... the third thing it was the result of was ... 

I can't, the third one, sorry. Oops.  

roo_ster
roo_ster

@bifftannen The folks who lived nearby are the ones who placed the value on their lives.  The could have lived elsewhere, but chose next to a fertilizer plant.  

hippo99x
hippo99x

@ibivi56 @mcdallas @Daniel @PersistentID2345 @ChrisDangerShow What I believe McDallas is trying to say is "Thanks, Obama!"

ibivi56
ibivi56

@mcdallas @Daniel @PersistentID2345 @ChrisDangerShow mcdallas, you again? Perhaps, but there was a huge explosion, a bunch of fire fighters were killed, a good part of the town was destroyed...all because the owner didn't bother with safety or regulations.  How is that better "than most government programs"?

roo_ster
roo_ster

@bifftannen Baloney.  

The plant was there before all that mess built around it.  Nobody put a gun to their head and said, "Build your structure on relatively cheap land near a fertilizer plant, or else!"  Choices have consequences.  

Before I bought my house, I investigated the local industry, crime rates, topography (to include 100yr flood plains), ethnic makeup, school district, and many other factors.  Others can do the same.

bifftannen
bifftannen

@roo_ster @bifftannen They didn't have a choice. Are there other apartments in West? Why should they have to live 20 miles away?


This is all academic anyhow, there were houses in the area before the fertilizer plant. At least two  houses on Jerry Mashek Drive north of the plant were there before the plant was built.

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