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1 Backwoods_Sleuth  Sat, Apr 20, 2013 7:40:25pm

Thanks for putting this together. Good to have it to share as people ask about it (and some already have).

2 Backwoods_Sleuth  Sat, Apr 20, 2013 8:29:47pm
3 CuriousLurker  Sat, Apr 20, 2013 9:03:43pm

re: #1 Backwoods_Sleuth

Thanks for putting this together. Good to have it to share as people ask about it (and some already have).

Seconded. Excellent Page, klys—thanks for your efforts.

4 calochortus  Sat, Apr 20, 2013 9:46:24pm

The disturbing proximity of schools and a nursing home to a hazardous facility is not unique to West, TX. I recall hearing years ago that you could trace major faults in the Los Angeles area by drawing lines between the hospitals. Land along fault traces is cheaper and attractive for things like schools, hospitals and the like.
Since that fertilizer plant had been there a long time, I’m guessing the house construction moved toward the plant over time and then someone noticed that there was land available there that would give lots of room for playing fields and buildings and it just seemed reasonable to put schools there.

This is why we need zoning.

5 klys  Sat, Apr 20, 2013 9:55:10pm

re: #4 calochortus

The disturbing proximity of schools and a nursing home to a hazardous facility is not unique to West, TX. I recall hearing years ago that you could trace major faults in the Los Angeles area by drawing lines between the hospitals. Land along fault traces is cheaper and attractive for things like schools, hospitals and the like.
Since that fertilizer plant had been there a long time, I’m guessing the house construction moved toward the plant over time and then someone noticed that there was land available there that would give lots of room for playing fields and buildings and it just seemed reasonable to put schools there.

This is why we need zoning.

The houses definitely post-date the plant; the nursing home was constructed in 1964 (versus 1962 for the plant) and the apartments that were heavily damaged were completed in 1969. The rationale you give for the school being sited there is probably sound.

More than anything, this makes the best case I can think of for zoning laws. I hesitate to ascribe motives yet to the factory owners, but one of the other questions this raises is what role connections play in these small towns - these folks owned the fertilizer plant/dealer, the grain storage/distribution facility, and a giant farm, so it’s reasonable to think that they were employing a non-trivial number of the local community and produced reasonable tax revenue. One of the things that’s good about federal and/or state oversight is that, although definitely still possible, it’s much harder to have personal connections play a role in enforcement and/or acknowledgement of the hazards.

6 Aligarr  Sun, Apr 21, 2013 3:09:24am

The danger of the fertilizer Ammonium Nitrate has long been known , and the Texas City Disaster is indeed a defining incident . In 1966 I sailed on a merchantman carrying 10,000 tons of the stuff to the far east , in the form of 100lb poly-burlap type bags . All on board were accutely aware of the potential for explosion should a fire breakout . That potential was exacerbated during loading or discharging as was the case of the ship involved in the Texas City disaster . Loading in Brownsville Texas was by sling and not pallatized as the packing in the holds was by hand requiring many workers and taking days .Discharge in Saigon was worse, as port facilities for this type of cargo was not priority ,so the ship was not docked but anchored in the river with lighters tieing up to the sides of the ship and hundreds of workers literally living, eating /cooking [and shitting ] all over the ship . Organized chaos as it were ,and in 100+ degree heat quite odiferous . Work continued 24 hrs. a day and took about 12 days . One night at about 10pm the unthinkable happened, fire in the hold broke out ,I was awakened by the alarms and screaming - half the crew were ashore doing what sailors do in port . The Vietnamese were jumping on to the lighters tied up on our sides . There was nowhere to go and I thought my end was near as I scrambled to get an extiguisher , expecting an explosion at any minute .Unbeknownst to me and other crew, ONE MAN by the name of Charley Mann a sailor from BKLYN was already two decks down in the hold , fire extinguisher in hand fighting the fire .Seeing it the quicker we lowered our extinguishers [3 ] down to Charley , who successfully extinguished the fire . I mention his name because it is worthy of mention , he saved the ship and all in it that night .At 16, I owed my life to this blackman from Bklyn . as did all of the crew on board.
Never sailed a ship with that cargo again . I thought it appropriate to recount this tale relating to Ammonium Nitrate . The West disaster Brought back these memories . The potential for a devastating explosion exists whenever and wherever there are large amounts of this stuff . The accumaulation of the dust alone from such a large quantity being manhandled in confined areas is dangerous . There was definitely and epic fail and lapse in West Texas .

7 Decatur Deb  Sun, Apr 21, 2013 4:40:40am

In the article, note there is a difference in intent of Federal self-reporting criteria. EPA risk management is focused on threats to the environment. OSHA relies less on self-reporting and is focused on the plant workforce. (Public safety is really more the concern of local fire officials.) All the agencies involved are chronically undermanned.

8 klys  Sun, Apr 21, 2013 12:55:02pm

re: #7 Decatur Deb

In the article, note there is a difference in intent of Federal self-reporting criteria. EPA risk management is focused on threats to the environment. OSHA relies less on self-reporting and is focused on the plant workforce. (Public safety is really more the concern of local fire officials.) All the agencies involved are chronically undermanned.

Agreed. At this point, however, an inspector from either of those agencies likely would have sufficient experience to note and highlight the insufficient safety features for the storage of ammonium nitrate - and DHS (which is focused on making sure the storage conditions are secure) certainly would have. It’s unclear to me if DHS knew about the anhydrous ammonia, which one article did say they were supposed to, although it didn’t mention the reporting criteria (how much stored on site, etc.).


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