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Fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas.
We still don't know the final casualty count from the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas; as of this writing the death toll is reported at five to 15. But there are a few numbers we do know. We know that, over the past five years, just six Texas fertilizer plants were inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and West Fertilizer Co. was not one of them. Which is not a surprise since we also know it would take OSHA 137 years to inspect all Texas jobsites.

The West plant was investigated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in 2006 after someone reported a "very bad" ammonia smell. In that investigation:

West Fertilizer Co. reported having as much as 54,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia on hand in an emergency planning report required of facilities that use toxic or hazardous chemicals.

But the report, reviewed Wednesday night by The Dallas Morning News, stated “no” under fire or explosive risks. The worst possible scenario, the report said, would be a 10-minute release of ammonia gas that would kill or injure no one.

The second worst possibility projected was a leak from a broken hose used to transfer the product, again causing no injuries.

We don't know yet what started this fire and explosion, but it's pretty clear that the company understated the risks it posed, and that our workplace safety inspection system is not robust enough.

For more discussion, see Eternal Hope's recommended diary.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 06:45 AM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and Daily Kos.

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