DALLAS, April 22 (UPI) -- The owners of a Texas fertilizer plant and regulators failed to take steps that would have prevented a deadly explosion, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board said Tuesday.
The volunteer firefighters who responded to a fire at the West Fertilizer Co. did not understand what they were dealing with, officials said at a news conference in Dallas. Most of the 14 killed in the explosion on April 18, 2013, were firefighters.
Between 40 and 60 tons of ammonium nitrate were stored in wooden buildings, the board said. Rafael Moure-Eraso, the chairman, said the explosion was caused by "the failure of a company to take the necessary steps to avert a preventable fire and explosion, and from the inability of federal, state and local regulatory agencies to identify a serious hazard and correct it.”
The explosion and fire caused severe damage to a middle school next to the plant in West, a city of fewer than 3,000 people 18 miles north of Waco. The blast also gutted a 50-unit apartment building and damaged a nursing home, forcing the evacuation of most of the residents.
An estimated 226 people were injured.
Moure-Eraso and Johnnie Banks, who headed the investigation, called for stronger regulation of ammonium nitrate by the Environmental Protection Admistration and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and stronger fire codes and training.
“All of these provisions should be reviewed and harmonized in light of the West disaster to ensure that firefighters are adequately protected,” Banks said.
Local officials apparently did not understand how dangerous the material stored at the plant could be, Banks said.
Ammonium nitrate, a major fertilizer, has been responsible for a number of disastrous accidental explosions. It has also been used by terrorists in the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building and in 2011 bombings in Oslo, Norway, and Delhi, India, among others.
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