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.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.
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.
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 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."
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."
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.