Texas Fire Marshal releasing report in May on West Fertilizer

17 April 2014 23:56 Source:ICIS News

HOUSTON (ICIS)--The Texas State Fire Marshal Office (SFMO) said on Thursday that its investigation into the explosion at West Fertilizer last year is still continuing as an active case but that it expects to release a report in May outlining the actions taken by the volunteer firefighters with a goal to provide guidance to others who will face similar accidents.

On 17 April  2013 an ammonium nitrate fuelled explosion at West Fertilizer killed 15 and injured another 200 when an undetermined fire started and eventually ignited the stockpiles of the crop nutrient.

The SFMO along with other state and federal investigators immediately launched an investigation at the cite but at this point none of the individual inquiries have been completed and beyond identifying the ammonium nitrate as the source of the explosion there still many questions left open.

“The investigation is active and ongoing. Scientific testing and interviews are still being conducted. There is no timeline for completion,” said the SFMO in a statement.

At this time the agency is continuing to work with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) at their laboratory in Maryland reviewing evidence gathered at the site and conducting extensive testing to determine the cause of the fire, the agency said.

Fire Marshal Chris Connealy said this week that as an active investigation the agency is still collecting evidence and insight on the case and that the information received has been substantial.

On Monday, Connealy told state lawmakers that his agency would like to see facilities that have ammonium nitrate supplies make improvements in regards to storage of the potentially deadly fertilizer product.

He told legislators that there are a large number of facilities that store ammonium nitrate in Texas and that these locations need to make significant improvements in both safety and construction practices.

Part of the recommendations is that facilities similar to West Fertilizer should adopt national fire code standards that call for moving the ammonium nitrate stockpiles into fireproof bins, install sprinklers or retrofit their buildings to mitigate the potential for explosions and that the state potentially provide three years for compliance.

Following the tragic incident the SFMO over the past year has inspected most of the state’s 100 or so ammonium nitrate facilities on a voluntary basis. Connealy has said that about half the ammonium nitrate facilities were storing the chemical much in the same manner as was present at West Fertilizer.

The agency been trying to make a concerted effort to making sure there will not be a repeat of the accident and a main part of this effort has been the agency’s on going public meetings which are emphasizing the potential dangers of ammonium nitrate and how local communities and officials can be better prepare and possibly avoid future deadly accidents.

Hoping to provide the public with more information on ammonium nitrate, the SFMO in November 2013 launched an online map that shows facilities in Texas that are either producing or holding ammonium nitrate in volumes of 10,000 lb or more.


By Mark Milam