WEST, Texas — More than a year after the deadly fertilizer explosion in West, residents of that Central Texas town got a chance to hear directly from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board Tuesday evening.
The CSB placed blame for the blast on the fertilizer company and a lack of government oversight. It said the incident was entirely preventable.
Although the board has no power to enforce its recommendations, it is calling for tougher regulations on ammonium nitrate, which is what exploded with such ferocity on April 17, 2013.
It was a moment that changed a town forever. And after more than 12 months, while the residents of West may be recovering, they are not finding answers.
"I think it's important people get a finality... to know what did really happen," said Dr. George Smith of West EMS.
But that's not what happened on Tuesday night.
More than 100 West residents did not learn what caused the initial fire at the West Fertilizer Company plant, because the preliminary findings of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board didn't offer a cause.
"If the lessons from West don't cause any change in Texas or throughout the U.S., I would consider that a second tragedy," board member Dr. Beth Rosenberg said.
Instead, the CSB and its investigators conveyed that massive lapses in emergency planning and regulations surrounding the storage of ammonia nitrate set the stage for a tragedy that was "preventable."
The investigation placed some of the fault on the shoulders of local officials. "McLennan County's local emergency planning committee didn't have an emergency response plan for West Fertilizer," the report said.
The county's emergency manager, Frank Patterson — who was featured in a series of News 8 Investigations — said guidelines should be made more clear about just what is expected from whom when it comes to regulation.
Between 40 to 60 tons of ammonia nitrate was being stored at the plant when the fire exploded.
A separate investigation done by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms last year also failed to identify a cause.
Residents of West now worry that a concrete determination as to what sparked that fire may never be known.