The West Texas Bomb

20 Apr

Hellscape At West, TexasYesterday, Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman reported, that OSHA hadn’t inspected the West, Texas fertilizer plant that exploded on the 17th since 2006. Casualty counts are disputed, but the Texas Department of Public Safety has confirmed it has recovered 14 bodies in the remains of the plant. Members of the local firefighting company were also killed fighting the conflagration, perhaps two that have been confirmed. According to The Guardian, in 2006, EPA fined the plant, but OSHA had not inspected the plant since 1985.

Officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), assisted by the US Chemical Safety Board, have begun their inquiry into the cause of the blast, which sent a fireball almost 100 metres into the air and left a giant crater where the plant had once been. The inquiry could take six months, an ATF spokeswoman said. Investigators will focus on which chemicals were stored at the plant. The West Fertilizer Company was licensed for 54,000lbs of anhydrous ammonia, a liquid nitrogen agricultural fertilizer that is stored in large reinforced steel tanks.

Officials at first suggested the explosion was caused by the anhydrous ammonia igniting, but it was revealed Thursday through Texas state records that the plant also possessed 270 tons of ammonium nitrate, a much more volatile, dry solid, at the end of 2012. Records also suggested that in 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a $2,300 fine for deficiencies in the plant’s risk management plan.

According to data from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the EPA, the last documented regulatory visit to the plant took place in late 2007, as a follow-up to a complaint of an odour coming from the site. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration – a body tasked with making sure America’s 7 million workplaces are safe for employees – has not made a site visit since 1985.

Mike Elk was on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes, to clear up that confusion (first and second segments).

Listening to Elk and another guest discuss this incident, in which more people have died and possibly more property damage occurred, I got the impression that there’s an implicit rationalization, that if we spend funds on regulation and inspection, and nothing bad happens, it’s perceived as a waste of money. But, if one incident like that which occurred at West, Texas intrudes on the media’s need to be as superficial as possible, it’s acceptable collateral damage in the campaign to placate “job creators”. And, wasting any time reporting on the issue is just not as entertaining as empowering aspiring online vigilantes to hunt down the Muslim terrorists they think are running rampant on America’s streets.

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