The April 17, 2013 explosion that killed 15 people and destroyed the town of West is now officially being called "preventable".
That's the conclusion of a preliminary report released Tuesday by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. While not exactly a revelation, it sums up the frustrations of the Safety Board, an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents.
It's also an organization with an inability to do anything but make recommendations.
Since 2002, the CSB has been trying to get the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the potentially explosive chemical ammonium nitrate without success.
"Had regulators acted on our recommendations sooner, there would have been additional requirements for safer handling and storage, and the accident may have been prevented," said Rafael Moure-Eraso, CSB chair.
With its release of preliminary findings of the West Fertilizer Company explosion, the CSB found that its facility was storing up to twice as much ammonium nitrate as originally reported — 40 to 60 tons rather than the 28 to 34 tons originally cited.
Officials reiterated earlier findings that a lack of a rural fire code and storage of an explosive chemical in wooden bins played a major role in the disaster.
Last summer, News 8 found at least two examples of other wooden storage bins in East Texas filled with ammonium nitrate.
The CSB also determined that the 12 emergency responders who died in West were never property warned their lives were in danger as they approached the fire.
"The community was clearly not aware of the potential hazard at West Fertilizer," said CSB investigator Johnnie Blanks.
The Chemical Safety Board is calling on state and federal agencies — specifically the EPA and and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration — to adopt new regulations, including:
- chemical storage limits
- the production of safer, less volatile blends of chemicals
- designating ammonium nitrate as a hazardous chemical
"Ammonium nitrate is not one of the chemicals currently listed,” Moure-Eraso said. "It should be."
CSB officials hope that things will change as a result of an executive order issued by President Obama last summer. The president is asking EPA and OSHA — among other government agencies — to help identify new ways to safely handle and store ammonium nitrate, hoping to prevent another catastrophe like the one in West.