Investigators still reviewing West Fertilizer blast in Texas

30 April 2013 19:03  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--Investigators on Tuesday were still combing through the rubble at the site of the fertilizer explosion in West, Texas, looking for evidence that can pinpoint the cause of the 17 April blast that killed 14.

A joint force consisting of the Texas Fire Marshall's Office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) have been working over the past 13 days. While they have made progress on ruling out possible causes, officials with the various agencies said they still have considerable work before making a final determination.

ATF spokesperson Franceska Perot said members of the ATF National Response Team are still at the scene and are working with state officials. However, their investigation has not yielded a clear explanation of what happened that night when a fire at West Fertilizer triggered the massive and lethal eruption.

“Yes, we are all still here and still working the scene. It may be a couple more weeks at this point. We do not have the origin and cause yet of the fire or explosion. We are working steadily towards it every day,” said Perot.

“Once we finish, we will have a press conference to announce the results. The report however will probably not be available for several months," Perot said.

At this point, officials have ruled out natural causes, such as lightening, as well as the company’s four tanks of anhydrous ammonia or a Union Pacific railcar that was initially thought to be containing ammonium nitrate as being factors in igniting the detonation.

As part of the investigation, officials have been able to locate the epicenter of the explosion, which left a massive crater. Teams are not only sifting through the debris to find smaller fragments but are also using heavy moving equipment capable of pulling out the large remnants of the damaged facility as they try to piece together a picture of what occurred.

CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso said his agency’s goal is not only to find out what happened but to craft recommendations that can be passed on to the federal government and the fertilizer industry to make sure there is not a repeat of the accident.

He said key areas that the CSB is looking at include the safe storage and handling of ammonium nitrate and the location of the facility as it relates to residential areas and schools.

By: Mark Milam



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