April, 2013

This is a repeating event

201317AprAll DayWest Fertilizer Explosion 2013West Fertilizer Co. West (US-TX) Origin: CSB Lessons:Commitment & Culture,Compliance with Standards,Emergency Preparedness,Process Knowledge,Risk Assessment,Stakeholder Engagement,Workforce InvolvementIndustry:AgricultureCountry:United StatesLanguage:ENLoC:Fire exposure

Summary

On April 17, 2013, a fire and explosion occurred at the West Fertilizer Company (WFC), a fertilizer blending, retail, and distribution facility in West, Texas. The violent detonation fatally injured 12 emergency responders and three members of the public. Local hospitals treated more than 260 injured victims, many of whom required hospital admission. The blast completely destroyed the WFC facility and caused widespread damage to more than 150 offsite buildings. The WFC explosion is one of the most destructive incidents ever investigated by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) as measured by the loss of life among emergency responders and civilians; the many injuries sustained by people both inside and outside the facility fenceline; and the extensive damage to residences, schools, and other structures. Following the explosion, WFC filed for bankruptcy.

The explosion happened at about 7:51 pm central daylight time (CDT), approximately 20 minutes after the first signs of a fire were reported to the local 911 emergency response dispatch center. Several local volunteer fire departments responded to the facility, which had a stockpile of between 40 and 60 tons (80,000 to 120,000 pounds) fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate (FGAN), not counting additional FGAN not yet offloaded from a railcar.

More than half of the structures damaged during the explosion were demolished to make way for reconstruction. The demolished buildings include an intermediate school (552 feet southwest of the facility), a high school (1,263 feet southeast), a two-story apartment complex with 22 units (450 feet west) where two members of the public were fatally injured, and a 145-bed nursing home (500 feet west) where many of the seriously injured civilians resided. A middle school (2,000 feet southwest) also sustained serious but reparable damage. Section 3 describes the incident and its consequences in detail.

KEY ISSUES:
• REGULATORY OVERSIGHT
• HAZARD AWARENESS
• EMERGENCY PLANNING & RESPONSE
• FERTILIZER GRADE AMMONIUM NITRATE STORAGE PRACTICES
• LAND USE PLANNING & ZONING

ROOT CAUSES:
1. The presence of combustible materials used for construction of the facility and the fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate (FGAN) storage bins, in addition to the West Fertilizer Company (WFC) practice of storing combustibles near the FGAN pile, contributed to the progression and intensity of the fire and likely resulted in the detonation.
2. The WFC facility did not have a fire detection system to alert emergency responders or an automatic sprinkler system to extinguish the fire at an earlier stage of the incident.
3. Regulatory, Insurance, Emergency Response, Emergency & Land Use Planning deficiencies.


Image credit: CSB

Origin

CSBUS Chemical Safety Board

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