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View Diary: Boston, MA vs West, TX (281 comments)

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  •  Can someone tell me what laws were broken? (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    efrenzy, anana, SoCalSal, rjnerd, La Gitane

    at West, TX?  and before you try and answer that, please have answers for the following:

    1. What classification does the fertilizer that was stored there have?  For example the IBC (Intl. Bldg Code) has 5 class levels of haz. mats, Classes 1-5.  But I do not know if the fertilizer is even considered a haz. mat.

    2.  What was the total quantity in storage?  

    3. What was the maximum quantity stored within one space?  (e.g: no fire separation/compartmentalization between areas of stored materials).

    4.  What type of structure housed the materials?  From what I have seen they were crude, maybe even wood framed shed warehouses and nothing over 10,000 SF in area.

    5.  Was there any required ventilation for the stored materials?

    Lots of questions here, just from an MSDS/haz mat handling perspective.  Re: the zoning issues, there was nothing unusual about the situation and relative proximities to other occupancies.  The schools etc... were hundreds if not thousands of ft. from the storage areas.  If the explosion was so bad that those distances didn't make a significant difference then the problem is that the dangers of the stored materials was/is not adequately recognized and provided for in storage requirements and regulations and codes.

    •  what blew... (43+ / 0-)

      They had ammonium nitrate, which is classified as a high explosive.  Its popular in mining, because its speed of detonation is considered "moderate", so it pushes material rather than  just shattering it.  It was used by McVeigh to take out the Murrah building, in the first World Trade center bombing (in the parking garage).  It was the material that exploded in the Texas City event, the single deadliest industrial explosion in US history, killing over 500 people.  It was also used in "Minor Scale" the single largest conventional explosion to date.

      It is quite flammable, and is an oxidizer.  In large quantities (tons) it can convert from burning to detonation.  In small quantities, it takes some effort to achieve detonation.  (in mining use, its typical to use 1/4 stick of dynamite to initiate a typical 1-300lb charge.)  For use as an explosive, it is usual to add 4% of some sort of oil (diesel and wax are common) Since during detonation, it releases some oxygen, the oil is added to improve yield.  The material is explosive without it.

      Quantity: 270 tons.  A touch over half a million pounds on their last inventory filed with the EPA.  (for perspective, McVeigh used an amount slightly more than 1% of their inventory to destroy the Murrah.  The Texas City event detonated about 10 times their inventory).

      Storage: As you noted, sheds, steel buildings.  Some was simply stored out of doors during peak (planting) season.

      In one place:  All of it, and 50,000 lb. of anhydrous ammonia in tanks to "sweeten" the pot.  They had been ordered in 2006, to erect some barriers, including one to reduce the threat to the middle school.  I can see no evidence of one in the before picture (date unknown) nor the remains of such a barrier in the after photos I have seen.

      Regulation:  Both the EPA and DHS are supposed to be told about it.  They did inform the EPA.  In the case of DHS, any place with more than 400 lbs. is required to file with DHS, who is supposed to review their physical security measures.  DHS also requires them to keep a log of all sales, rules put in place after the Murrah bombing.

      This planet needs a lot more kids who think taking a lawnmower apart is more fun than playing a videogame.

      by rjnerd on Sun Apr 21, 2013 at 10:19:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  So the short answer is (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        rjnerd, anana, dewtx, dfe, La Gitane

        it's a potentially dangerous material when stored in large quantities.  Sounds like it is under/not properly regulated.  
        FYI I am approaching this from the perspective of an architect.  Since these were agricultural sheds, I doubt a bldg inspector ever laid eyes on this place, and even if they did, the potential dangers of the stored material would not be obvious.  However, the fact that someone, at some point in time suggested (ordered?) erection of barriers, indicates recognition of a potentially dangerous situation.
        So right now it looks like it is an inadequately regulated material, but... that should soon change after this.

      •  definitely not my expertise, but . . . (3+ / 0-)

        isn't this ammonium nitrate fertilizer made from natural gas? If so, with the price of natural gas so low, perhaps the plant owners decided to stockpile it until they could sell at a higher price at a future time. Given the lax regulation, is it possible that there are stockpiles of ammonium nitrate similar to this all over Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and maybe in the Dakotas as well?

        It's criminal for first responders like EMT's and volunteer firemen in small towns who are normally dealing with kitchen fires and heart attacks to be putting into harm's way in a situation like this. I'm curious, what sort of technology, equipment and trained personnel needed for an emergency in such a facility? Obviously not a firetruck and a couple guys with hoses and extinguishers.

        This is the kind of horrible and shocking news we hear and shake our heads when it happens in China - I can see why Rick Perry wants to secede. He probably had the owners over to his disgusting backwoods place for a bit of hunting and male bonding - hope he's real proud of the results of his "business-friendly" approach.

        •  Well..... (6+ / 0-)

          For production of ammonium nitrate they usually start with anhydrous ammonia and nitric acid-- both of which are flammable or explosive in their own right, and anhydrous ammonia is also a severe inhalation hazard.  It's not clear to me at this point whether the factory was actually making ammonium nitrate (I should find that out).  

          This is also exactly why facilities like this are required to notify regulators of the materials they store-- so the local fire department will know for example what not to pour water on.  The problem is, these reports are generated by the company  or its consultants, don't always get a proper critical review from the regulators, and in any case the info in them can be false or incomplete.  In this case, apparently from the plant's federal "EPCRA" filing,  this sort of explosion was not supposed to be possible.  Well guess what? It was.

          In some places, such as my own Massachusetts, fire departments will lobby against places like this opening-- or will outright refuse to issue permits for chemical storage--in the interests of public safety, if the department does not have the personnel and equipment to respond to an emergency.  This is less common now that we have access to Homeland Security money and more mutual aid (including regional hazmat units), but it's still a concern.  It's no coincidence at all that the local hazmat battalion is based two miles from the Solutia plant.

          Irony is the ultimate cop-out way of turning something you didn't mean into something you did...the last refuge of the scoundrel.-- Julian Cope

          by Thunderthief on Sun Apr 21, 2013 at 05:21:38 PM PDT

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        •  Gas It Is! (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          jfromga
          isn't this ammonium nitrate fertilizer made from natural gas?
          Yes it is, and large amounts of electricity. There's an ammonium nitrate plant here in our county, owned by Dyno Nobel, and I've studied the operation and processes some. However, there are not any schools or residences within what might be a theoretical blast zone of the plant, and Oregon isn't afraid of regulations that involve safety.

          You meet them halfway with love, peace and persuasion, and expect them to rise for the occasion ~ Van Morrison

          by paz3 on Mon Apr 22, 2013 at 08:06:40 AM PDT

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    •  Forgot to mention distances... (32+ / 0-)

      The middle school was well under 500 feet away, the nursing home was about 500 feet, and the high school was less than 1,000 feet away.

      By contrast the National Fire Prevention Assn recommends that for quantities of 50,000 lb (1/10 their inventory) a buffer of 1,500 feet if barriers are present, and 2,000 feet for level ground.  As mentioned they were ordered (and fined) to erect some barriers in 2006, but there is no evidence that they did so.

      (NFPA tables are behind a paywall so I can't check on distance for the amount they actually had on hand)
       

      This planet needs a lot more kids who think taking a lawnmower apart is more fun than playing a videogame.

      by rjnerd on Sun Apr 21, 2013 at 10:25:09 AM PDT

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    •  An article in today's Houston Chronicle discusses (16+ / 0-)

      this. The article by Patricia Kilday Hart is here. Here are three paragraphs from that article (with the first being the opening paragraph):

      The Department of Homeland Security, the federal agency charged with regulating the highly explosive substance ammonium nitrate, wasn't aware that West Fertilizer Co. stored 270 tons of ammonium nitrate - 1,300 times the threshold that triggers federal oversight.

      But the small company did submit the information to another government agency - the Department of State Health Services.
      ...

      The patchwork of local, state and national laws regulating fertilizer facilities remains at the heart of the investigation into the deadly explosion that claimed 14 lives in the tiny Czech community of West. Saturday, company officials were unavailable to explain why they had not complied with DHS rules, promulgated in the last five years, requiring the disclosure of such a large quantity of ammonium nitrate.

      This article goes on to discuss the lax state of state health and safety regulation in Texas, which is becoming even more lax as the state continues to cut funds for state regulatory health and safety oversight. However, two days ago Governor Perry did express some willingness to review whether state regulations were adequate. Yeah right--what a coincidence! That'll last about as long as a popsicle in a summer heatwave. Too bad Gov. Perry didn't think of this two years ago instead of two days ago when it might have made a world of difference.

      But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, ... there are few die well that die in a battle; ... Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; — Shakespeare, ‘Henry V’

      by dewtx on Sun Apr 21, 2013 at 12:51:40 PM PDT

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    •  We don't know if any laws were broken. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BlackSheep1, NYFM

      And we certainly don't know, if laws were broken, that no one will be criminally charged and aggressively prosecuted. The incident just happened, and people here are assuming both that laws were broken and that no one is going to be charged. Kinda silly thing to get upset about at this point given that we know nothing, but whatever.

      •  Actually we know of some broken laws already (8+ / 0-)

        DHS required them to report the presence of the stuff, (so they could review their physical safety measures) and keep logs of who they sold it to.  (threshold was 400lbs, they had 1,300 times that amount).  DHS had no idea they existed, and they had not been keeping the required log, never mind submitting it.

        They also submitted false documents concerning the risks of the site.  They said "no risk of fire".  If you are storing ammonium nitrate, there is by definition a fire risk.  If you are storing it in multi-ton quantities, there is also risk of a fire in the material progressing to detonation.  (in small quantities it will just burn, in large quantities the fire will spur some decomposition, which will lead to detonation).

        This planet needs a lot more kids who think taking a lawnmower apart is more fun than playing a videogame.

        by rjnerd on Sun Apr 21, 2013 at 07:57:10 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  the problem is that they don't have laws (5+ / 0-)

      e.g zoning laws that would have prevented a school nursing home and fertilizer plant within spitting distance of each other, and laxly followed OSHA inspections or non existent inspections

      "I'm sculpting now. Landscapes mostly." ~ Yogi Bear

      by eXtina on Sun Apr 21, 2013 at 05:17:20 PM PDT

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      •  zoning laws? (0+ / 0-)

        do you really need zoning laws to tell you that building anything near this type of plant is a bad idea?

        who decides zoning laws? people in the pocket of bug business.

        end of story.

        mittens=edsel. no matter how much money is spent to promote it, if the product sucks, no one will buy it.

        by wewantthetruth on Mon Apr 22, 2013 at 06:21:16 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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