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While West, Texas Commemorates Anniversary of Factory Explosion, State and Federal Lawmakers Fail to Act

Residents of West, Texas recently commemorated the one-year anniversary of a major fertilizer explosion that killed 15 people, injured 200, and destroyed homes, schools, and a nursing home. One concern of many is that despite this deadly lesson, not enough has been done to implement new safety rules that would prevent a similar catastrophe from occurring.

In April 2013, a fertilizer plant that had operated for more than 50 years on the north side of town exploded, killing first responders who arrived to contain a fire in the facility. No plant workers were killed, but that may have been merely good fortune, as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had fined the plant previously for improper storage of anhydrous ammonia. However, OSHA’s fine was for just $30, when it could have been for as much as $1,000. It turned out that the damage from the plant explosion would amount to $100 million.

While investigators have determined that stored ammonium nitrate caused the explosion, they still do not know what caused the fire that ignited it.

Many residents of West try to look on the bright side, despite the fact that cement slabs are all that remain of the public high school and a nursing home. They hope that another fertilizer plant will be built to boost the local economy — but placed far away from the town center. Meanwhile, the 93-foot crater caused by the explosion is finally being filled up by construction crews.

More worrisome is the fact that little has been done to prevent a similar calamity from taking place, either in West or in the rest of Texas. Of the 100 facilities in Texas that store large amounts of possibly explosive ammonium nitrate, only one is equipped with a fire-dampening sprinkler system. Half of these facilities were built with combustible wood. Counties that wish to adopt stricter measures — such as fire codes that require noncombustible construction or sprinkler systems — have been prohibited from doing so by state law.

Both state lawmakers and federal agencies have been criticized for moving slowly on the issue. In August 2013, President Obama had issued an executive order demanding a reexamination of federal rules surrounding ammonium nitrate. While a working group was formed from several agencies, it made no mention of adopting a recommendation to include ammonium nitrate in the Environmental Protection Agency’s risk management plan. Nor is there any indication that OSHA will include ammonium nitrate in its special inspection program of facilities with dangerous chemicals.

Until more action is taken, one of the few remedies a family of those injured or killed by factory explosions has is to sue for wrongful death. A family could seek damages that would pay for the loved one’s death, such as an amount for loss of consortium.

Meanwhile, those who have been merely injured in a workplace accident could be entitled to workers compensation, as well as compensation from any third party responsible. The experienced San Antonio personal injury attorneys at Carabin Shaw may be able to help. Call our office today for more information at 1-800-862-1260.

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