DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The U.S. Chemical Safety Board has found that the West volunteer firefighters were not fully aware of the risk of ammonium nitrate exploding at the West Fertilizer Co. plant when they responded to a fire there one year ago. This is among the findings being released by the federal agency, which investigates industrial chemical accidents, on Tuesday morning in Dallas.
Later on Tuesday, the board’s chairman, Rafael Moure-Eraso, and two other board members, Mark Griffon and Beth Rosenberg, will be among those attending a community meeting in West to present the agency’s preliminary findings of its investigation.
The meeting comes just days after the town observed the somber one year anniversary of the plant explosion that killed 15 people, including 12 first responders.
Investigators from the ATF and the State Fire Marshal’s Office said that a fire caused more than 30 tons of ammonium nitrate, which was stored at the fertilizer plant, to explode. There is no exact cause on how the fire started.
The CSB investigation found that the previous lessons learned from firefighter fatalities and emergency response to ammonium nitrate were not effectively disseminated to firefighters and emergency responders in other communities where the fertilizer is stored. There are ample industrial warnings of the dangers ammonium nitrate pose, but government codes on all levels do not reflect that.
In the aftermath of the West explosion, the CSB discovered that there are no federal requirements for volunteer fire departments to develop site specific plans before an incident at businesses handling and storing hazardous materials.
The agency also found that West residents were unaware that ammonium nitrate stored at the plant could explode. Investigators at the CSB said that the town did not give an official evacuation order, and that there was not any pre-planning at the plant by the town.
As CBS 11 News reported in May of last year, the McLennan County Local Emergency Planning Council, which develops an emergency response plan, did not include the West Fertilizer Co. plant because of an agricultural exemption by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The CSB added that the West blast damaged 350 homes — including 150 which were destroyed. An apartment complex, three schools, a nursing home, hospital and a park were also gutted. The schools, nursing home and private houses are all in the process of being re-built.
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