Ripped from the pages: More on the West Fertilizer explosion in Texas

Texas explosion facts emerge, report Glenn Hess and Jeff Johnson in C&EN this week, although much remains unknown:

According to state and federal records, the retail facility stored some 270 tons of ammonium nitrate and 54,000 lb of anhydrous ammonia for sale to local farmers. …

The facility appeared not to segregate ammonium nitrate, nor did it have automatic sprinkler systems, structural fire barricades, or other mechanisms to limit fires. Whether first responders were aware of what was in the warehouse and its potential for explosion is unknown. …

Ammonium nitrate storage and use are controlled by state and federal regulations. However, it appears that West Fertilizer’s reports to regulators held conflicting information about what materials and quantities were stored, so this small retail distribution facility may not have triggered regulators’ notice. …

Meanwhile, C&EN Deputy Editor-in-Chief Josh Fischman writes in an editorial about a 1947 ammonium nitrate explosion in Texas that killed nearly 600 people, including 27 firefighters, and destroyed 500 homes:

On Oct. 20, 1947, C&EN reported that an expert at the President’s Conference on Fire Prevention said the disaster could have been prevented if “reasonable safety rules had been observed.”

Apparently that hasn’t happened.

There’s also been a West-related dust-up in California. Earlier this year, Texas Governor Rick Perry launched an ad campaign in California and visited the state to try to woo businesses “with promises of low taxes, loose regulations and a hard stance on organized labor,” reported the Los Angeles Times in February. Sacramento Bee cartoonist Jack Ohman subsequently responded to the West Fertilizer explosion with this cartoon. Perry responded that the cartoon inappropriately “mock[ed] the tragic deaths of my fellow Texans and our fellow Americans.” What say you, Safety Zone readers? Was the cartoon appropriately provoking or insensitive?

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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  1. It is an appropriate juxtaposition. These are the sorts of things one can expect by cutting regulations and by not enforcing the ones you have. The same type of explosion happened 66 years ago, but politicians, and the public, have short memories. This is a tragedy in more ways than one.

  2. Put me on the “appropriately provoking” side. I predict Perry will be asked to head the EPA – of the People’s Republic of China.

  3. Absolutely appropriate. It’s an editorial cartoon – it’s supposed to provoke, and the more it provokes the more it is right on target.