Texas officials confirm 12 fatalities in fertilizer explosion

19 April 2013 16:28 Source:ICIS News

Texas officials confirm 12 fatalities in fertilizer explosionHOUSTON (ICIS)—Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) on Friday said that 12 people have been confirmed dead and approximately 200 injured following a massive explosion at fertilizer facility on Wednesday in the small community of West.

A fire on Wednesday evening at West Fertilizer resulted in a tremendous blast that also inflicted extensive property damage to the surrounding areas and set off an array of concerns for safety officials and citizens that there could be further explosions or the release of toxic gas.

Following the accident, one of the immediate fears was that the accident had released large amounts of ammonia gas, which can cause breathing difficulties or suffocation.  At this time no impacts have been reported but the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is closely monitoring the situation as it has placed 12 monitors around the site to asses any immediate health effects or future threats.

Authorities have yet to pinpoint what caused the fire. but officials insist that there is no indication that the incident was anything more than an industrial accident. Members of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) National Response Team are in the West and are expected to start a routine investigation on Friday according to an ATF spokesperson.

West Fertilizer operates as a distributor and in addition to mixing dry fertilizer had storage capacities that contain anhydrous ammonia, which has been viewed as the possible culprit in the earth shaking explosion.

According to DPS, the bodies recovered at this point were found primarily in the area of the explosion and the agency is unsure as to the veracity of reports that have stated these victims were a part of the volunteer fire department or first responders.

Rescue efforts continued on Friday morning said DPS as crews have searched and cleared 150 buildings and residences and have approximately 25 more locations to complete.

In addition to local and state operations in West, the ATF has been joined by the US Chemical Safety Board who is undertaking their first investigation into a fertilizer plant explosion.

By Mark Milam