Reuters: West Fertilizer plant didn’t disclose ammonium nitrate stores
posted at 12:15 pm on April 20, 2013 by Ed Morrissey
The explosion in West was a tragic accident, not terrorism, but it may have been uniquely vulnerable to the latter without federal regulators knowing it. Reuters reports this morning that West Fertilizer stored more than a thousand times more than the reporting level of ammonium nitrate, a key ingredient in both fertilizer and certain types of bombs, without disclosing it as required to the Department of Homeland Security:
The fertilizer plant that exploded on Wednesday, obliterating part of a small Texas town and killing at least 14 people, had last year been storing 1,350 times the amount of ammonium nitrate that would normally trigger safety oversight by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Yet a person familiar with DHS operations said the company that owns the plant, West Fertilizer, did not tell the agency about the potentially explosive fertilizer as it is required to do, leaving one of the principal regulators of ammonium nitrate – which can also be used in bomb making – unaware of any danger there.
Fertilizer plants and depots must report to the DHS when they hold 400 lb (180 kg) or more of the substance. Filings this year with the Texas Department of State Health Services, which weren’t shared with DHS, show the plant had 270 tons of it on hand last year. …
Firms are responsible for self reporting the volumes of ammonium nitrate and other volatile chemicals they hold to the DHS, which then helps measure plant risks and devise security and safety plans based on them.
Since the agency never received any so-called top-screen report from West Fertilizer, the facility was not regulated or monitored by the DHS under its CFAT standards, largely designed to prevent sabotage of sites and to keep chemicals from falling into criminal hands.
The DHS focuses “specifically on enhancing security to reduce the risk of terrorism at certain high-risk chemical facilities,” said agency spokesman Peter Boogaard. “The West Fertilizer Co. facility in West, Texas is not currently regulated under the CFATS program.”
Bear in mind that this may not have anything to do with the fire and explosion, at least not directly. The reporting requirements are in place so that DHS can ensure that proper security exists to keep terrorists from getting their hands on enough ammonium nitrate to conduct an Oklahoma City-size attack. It’s not necessarily a safety regimen in the day-to-day operational sense.
Still, if West Fertilizer wasn’t in compliance with those regulations, it may indicate that they cut corners elsewhere, too. And you can bet that Texas and the federal government will be wondering the same thing in the aftermath of the devastation that took place in West this week.