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In an exclusive story, Reuters reveals that security around the West fertilizer plant left a lot to be desired.  The plant was a frequent target for thieves who stole some of the anhydrous ammonia stored there to make meth.  

Police responded to at least 11 reports of burglaries and five separate ammonia leaks at West Fertilizer Co over the past 12 years, according to 911 dispatch logs and criminal offense reports Reuters obtained from the McLennan County Sheriff's office in Waco, Texas through an Open Records Request.

Some of the leaks, including one reported in October 2012, were linked to theft or interference with tank valves.

According to one 2002 crime report, a plant manager told police that intruders were stealing four to five gallons of anhydrous ammonia every three days.

So far, authorities don't think the security breaches were a factor in the explosion.  The ammonia tanks, for instance, remained intact.  Still, given the circumstances, you really have to wonder how we didn't have a disaster here sooner.

McLennan County chief deputy sheriff Matt Cawthon says that even though anhydrous ammonia thefts are very common here, West Fertilizer's security remained noticeably lax.

After reviewing crime reports from the past 12 years and speaking to deputies who responded to some of the break-ins, Cawthon said security was clearly lax at the plant.

The perimeter was not fenced, and the facility had no burglar alarms or security guards, he said. "It was a hometown-like situation. Everybody trusts everybody."

The plant didn't even have a surveillance system until 2009, when police strongly encouraged the plant to do so after another rash of thefts.  That doesn't sit well with Sam Mannan, a chemical security expert at Texas A&M.  He puts it bluntly--with the number of ammonia thefts that took place here, "this plant was vulnerable to unwanted intruders or even a terrorist attack."

West Fertilizer may already be in hot water with Homeland Security for its failure to report its stash of ammonium nitrate.  Under federal law, anyone who has more than one ton of ammonium nitrate must report it to Homeland Security.  The requirement is even more stringent if it's combined with combustible material like anhydrous ammonia--it's 400 pounds.  As we now know, West Fertilizer had a whopping 240 tons of ammonium nitrate at its facility.  Somehow, you have to hope that given these new revelations about this company's lackadaisical security procedures, it may have some more explaining to do.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (21+ / 0-)

    The NRA's response to calls for responsible gun law reform: noun, verb, Second Amendment

    by Christian Dem in NC on Sat May 04, 2013 at 08:20:27 AM PDT

  •  not proximate cause. (6+ / 0-)

    the explosion was a fire, so you have to look at their fire safety and wether they conformed to local rules.

    also, failing to report to DHS is only proximate if DHS does anything with this.  If it's purely a clerical requirement
    and DHS doesn't do safety inspections, it's a venial sin.

    I'd say given the regulatory free environment the issue
    depends upon a general duty to maintain a safe environment.

  •  so say they had reported on some (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a2nite, BlackSheep1, Lujane

    form that they had this quantity of ammonium nitrite. And had a fence around the building to prevent theft. The end result, the explosion, would still have happened, and there would be as many dead. Fertilizer plants are bombs, and when one is on fire it is unwise to treat it as anything but.

  •  If you look at the comments in the Reuter's (8+ / 0-)

    story you see Conservatives pleading for no comment until reports are finished, and being called out by others over their rush to judgement on Benghazi. Their hypocrisy is unbounded as they are operating in a bubble of fear for a future they no longer control or recognize. To Conservatives it seems that all action now is a zero-sum game, where a gain for any liberal agenda item is necessarily a loss for them, even on issues they used to support. One evident result of this is a willingness politicize EVERYTHING - and then in a pyrotechnic display of projection claim that it is the left that rushes to politicize everyday events.

    As a commenter pointed out - if this had happened in a blue state we would not be hearing the end of it - or how high up the culpability would go. But it didn't - and the article shockingly points to a history of negligent handling even after numerous thefts, and also to a criminal(?) failure to report the quantities and movement of these dangerous compounds. And we haven't even touched the zoning idiocy that placed schools and housing right next to the plant.

    One side-concern I have, and maybe its not a side-concern, is that the source of this article is Reuters - a UK-based news organization. It seems to me that increasingly we're "offshoring" our investigative reporting needs to media groups like Reuters, the Guardian, Al-Jazeera that are outside the reach of corporate America. I know the Mother Jones and Rolling Stone have done truly great work in the last few years - but they're not daily news sources.

    The big domestic news groups (including sadly the NYT) seem downright reluctant to do this kind of investigative reporting if it means running afoul of Conservative interests and if the Koch brothers get their way with Tribune newspapers the offshore (or transatlantic) news organizations will become the only sources telling us inconvenient truths about our own backyard.

  •  And those fcukers only had $1 million insurance (8+ / 0-)

    Another "triumph" for Rick Perry and his no-regulations state of Texas:

    The West Fertilizer Co., scene of an explosion last month that killed 15 people and injured 200, carried only $1 million in liability insurance.

    The cause of the blast is still under investigation. Should the company be found negligent, that amount of coverage probably would pay only a fraction of the claims.

    Property damage alone in West could reach $100 million, according to the Insurance Council of Texas, an industry association. The April 17 explosion destroyed an apartment complex and seriously damaged a nursing home and a school. Several hundred homes also sustained damage, with some leveled to the foundation.

    An attorney for United States Fire Insurance Co. of Morristown, N.J., confirmed Friday that West Fertilizer had $1 million in liability coverage “with no excess or umbrella coverage.”

    Fertilizer facilities like the one in West are not required to have liability insurance that would compensate for damage they might cause, state insurance officials say, even if hazardous material is on hand.

    West Fertilizer had reported having 270 tons of ammonium nitrate on site as of the end of last year. Outside experts have said it appears the chemical exploded during a fire on company property.

    Please help to fight hunger with a donation to Feeding America.

    by MJB on Sat May 04, 2013 at 12:02:03 PM PDT

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