In a development that likely increases the chances of criminal charges in the West fertilizer explosion, it turns out that the plant's owners didn't tell federal officials they were storing ammonium nitrate there.
The company sold ammonium nitrate and anhydrous ammonia, both commonly used as fertilizers. It had notified state and local emergency management officials of its stock of both in its most recent declaration of hazardous chemicals, filed in February.It turns out that plant had 270 tons of ammonium nitrate onsite. Maybe it's just me, but if that minor detail had been disclosed, that plant would have been under greater scrutiny than it was. Remember, we're talking about a facility that hadn't been inspected by OSHA since 1985 and didn't have even basic safety equipment onsite.
However, the risk management plan it filed with the federal Environmental Protection Agency in 2011 mentioned only anhydrous ammonia, which produces suffocating fumes and can cause burns if mishandled. The plan listed as a worst-case scenario "the release of the total contents of a storage tank released as a gas over 10 minutes" and did not warn of the risks of explosion.
Federal law requires any operation that holds more than a ton of fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate to report that stock to the Department of Homeland Security. Proposed new rules would cut that to 25 pounds. But Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a Senate subcommittee Tuesday that West Fertilizer doesn't appear to have reported its ammonium nitrate stock to federal officials, adding, "We're following up on that."
If there was any doubt that someone needs to go to jail for this, it's pretty much erased now.