Texas Fertilizer Plant Owners Cited For Safety Violations

Our Fronteras Desk reporter at Marfa Public Radio, Lorne Matalon reports.

The federal government has fined the company that owns a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, for safety violations following an explosion in April which left 15 dead and more than 100 injured.

Since the spring, people in West, which is near Dallas, have been clamoring for answers.

What caused the inferno that took the lives of 15 of their neighbors last April?

The investigation by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration has cited the owners of the plant, Adair Grain, parent company of West Fertilizer Company, for a rash of safety violations which the agency describes as “serious.”

One hundred other people were injured and hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed on April 17. The final probe into the tragedy is on hold pending a resolution of the standoff in Washington.

But the federal government isn’t waiting.

It has fined Adair Grain $118,000 for 24 violations after the explosion exposed workers to ammonium nitrate burns and destroyed hundreds of homes in the area.

The cited violations include unsafe handling and storage of fertilizer, failure to have an emergency response plan, respiratory protection or the proper kind of fire extinguisher.

Dan Keeney, a spokesman for West Fertilizer Company, said the company’s lawyers are reviewing the citations and proposed fine. The company has 15 days to pay the fine or file an administrative appeal with OSHA.

“Based on what they see so far, it doesn’t appear that the violations that are alleged have anything to do with the accident, but they’re still reviewing it,” Keeney said.

There is a separate state criminal investigation underway.

Investigators previously narrowed the number of possible causes to a problem with one of the plant’s electrical systems, a battery-powered golf cart, or a criminal act. They ruled out others, including a rail car on site loaded with fertilizer or someone smoking.

The magnitude of the explosion knocked out windows and rooftops all across the small town.

It registered as a small earthquake. Blast victims included a group of 10 first responders and two others who volunteered to join the rescue effort.

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