Dangerously close: explosion in West, Texas

Published:  29 January, 2016

VIDEO: The CSB’s new safety video includes a 3D animation of the fire and explosion at West Fertilizer Company as well as interviews with CSB investigators.

The fatal April 17, 2013, fire and explosion in West, Texas resulted in 15 fatalities, more than 260 injuries, and widespread community damage.

The deadly fire and explosion occurred when about 30 tonnes of fertiliser grade ammonium nitrate (FGAN) exploded after being heated by a fire at the storage and distribution facility.

The CSB’s investigation found that several factors contributed to the severity of the explosion, including poor hazard awareness and fact that nearby homes and business were built in close proximity to the West Fertilizer Company over the years prior to the accident.

The video explains that there was a stockpile of 40 to 60 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored at the facility in plywood bins on the night of the explosion. And although FGAN is stable under normal conditions, it can violently detonate when exposed to contaminants in a fire.

The video details safety recommendations made to OSHA and the EPA to strengthen their regulations to protect the public from hazards posed by FGAN.

It also explains how inadequate emergency planning contributed to the tragic accident. The CSB found that the West Volunteer Fire Department was not required to perform pre-incident planning for an ammonium nitrate-related emergency, nor were the volunteer firefighters required to attend training on responding to fires involving hazardous chemicals.

As a result, the CSB has made several safety recommendations to various stakeholders, including the EPA, to better inform and train emergency responders on the hazards of FGAN and other hazardous chemicals.

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