West explosion

Death and devastation from the West fertilizer plant blast produced a law of some reforms.

A fertilizer safety bill inspired by the 2013 West explosion that killed 15 people is now law and should ensure that no more ammonium nitrate facilities explode, said its author, state Rep. Kyle Kacal, R-College Station.

Kacal, whose district includes West, stood with West Mayor Tommy Muska on Monday as Gov. Greg Abbott signed HB 942.

“We’re going to make this state safer,” he said. “I hope there’s not another fire at one of these facilities — we cannot prevent those — but a fire should not be catastrophic.”

The bill requires ammonium nitrate dealers to allow state fire marshal inspections, to maintain a 30-foot distance between the fertilizer and flammable materials and to report their storage quantities to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality rather than the Department of State Health Services.

A fire at the West Fertilizer Co. dealership on April 17, 2013, detonated 30 tons of the granulated nitrogen fertilizer, leading to an explosion that wrecked whole neighborhoods and killed 15 people, mostly firefighters.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board called the disaster preventable, faulting the wooden construction of the fertilizer bins and the lack of a fire suppression system, as well as failures in the chemical regulatory system.

A bill by state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, would have given the state fire marshal rule-making authority for how the chemical should be stored. Agribusiness interests successfully defeated that bill, saying it would impose unpredictable costs on fertilizer dealers.

Kacal said his bill had wide support and will make a substantial difference. He said the bill will facilitate regular inspections by local and state fire officials.

“That’s huge,” he said, adding that “it builds relationships” between facility operators and safety officials.

In addition, the TCEQ is better able to monitor fertilizer storage safety reports than health officials, he said.

Kacal said that after the West incident, the fertilizer industry immediately made safety improvements, which have continued.

“God bless everybody we lost,” he said. “Now people are more conscious of the dangers, and fertilizer plants are out there leading the charge.”

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