Texas Helpless to Prevent Another Fertilizer Plant Explosion

Remember the West, Texas explosion that killed 15 people, injured hundreds more and devastated an entire community? Given that about 150 Texas businesses similarly house massive amounts of highly explosive fertilizer, Texas fire departments have taken it upon themselves to help prevent a similar disaster from happening again. However, some businesses are refusing to consent to an inspection and — unfortunately — the law is on the businesses’ side.

Although the precise cause of the West plant’s explosion has still not been determined, that hasn’t dissuaded local fire officials from being proactive in verifying that other such facilities aren’t a danger. Thus far, State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy and staff have tried to examine around 60 businesses with large fertilizer supplies, but nearly 10% of such operations have flat out refused the inspection.

Connealy expresses concern over the lack of cooperation, but overly generously concedes, “They may have a very good reason.”

We may never know the businesses’ reasons, however, since they can legally deny entry to the state fire marshal. Shockingly, Texas has no state fire codes, thus preventing officials from making such an inspection. If that doesn’t sound awful enough, Texas actually prohibits 70% of its counties from having fire codes. The wisdom — to use the term lightly — behind that decision is that maintaining fire codes is expensive.

As Firehouse points out, it is mandatory for every motorist to obtain liability insurance, but facilities that house tons of explosive materials like the plant in West are not required to have liability policies. In fact, the only insurance the company had was a basic $1 million policy, hardly sufficient to cover the estimate $135 million in damage.

If the plants are denying entrance to the fire marshal while waiting for the “proper” authorities to arrive, they better not hold their collective breaths. While there are federal government officials that can legally inspect these plants, a lack of funds prevents such examinations from occurring on even a semi-regular basis. If you’ll recall, the last time West’s facilities were checked was six years before the blast. Although it was found to have major safety violations, instead of being re-inspected, the business was instead fined $2,300.

Perhaps if they raised the fine for million dollar businesses with such egregious infractions, the government could afford to have more inspections. Failing that, they could just permit fire departments with an interest in public safety to verify that their buildings are not about to go up in flames… or not, apparently. After all, America loves big business, it trusts big business, and the free market will protect the people better than any government employees would!

Heck, even the elected officials agree with that sentiment. State Representative Joe Pickett (D) says, “I would say that any resistance is more just fear of the unknown than anybody trying to hide or cover up some situation like West.” How optimistic! He adds, “I would believe if somebody thought they had something that was really dangerous, the only reason they would say no was to get it fixed that day.” Ah, but not the day before the fire marshal arrived. Surely these types of inspections – which incidentally should not be allowed — have no impact on how seriously the companies take matters of safety.

In summary, America will spend hundreds of billions on wars that are in the name of preventing future terrorist bombings, but if a million-dollar company is willfully reckless and accidentally blows people up, there is no money to address this issue. If anything, the government will pass counterintuitive laws that protect the businesses’ right to secretly engage in risky behavior, public safety be damned.

Score another point for corporate America! Oh, and try to stay safe, Texas!

Photo Credit: A Name Like Shields Can Make You Defensive


Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Donna Ferguson
Donna F4 years ago

I don't believe we're helpless, as this story suggests. there was another mass shooting today. I also don't believe we're helpless to prevent most mass shootings. disgusting!

Lynnl C.
Lynn C4 years ago


Sylvia M.
Sylvia M4 years ago

What can you do? They don't want inspections or regulations of any kind, since it would be so detrimental to their (capitalist) "Freedom" (cue the mandatory flag waving). Until the Texans (the ones that are left) rise up and protest FOR greater safety regulation, TX will evidently just keep the status quo. They'll show us all-can't let that pesky Federal Govt. push them around. On the other hand, if this keeps up maybe the state will move blue. OK-purple....Hope springs eternal

James Lee G.
James Lee G.4 years ago

No, Texas is not helpless to prevent another fertilizer plant explosion. Furthermore, Texas was not helpless to prevent the explosion at the West Fertilizer retail outlet (not "fertilizer plant"). The federal government did not prevent the Sate of Texas or the county from having a fire code; the State of Texas did. Texas can adopt a fire code. Texas can allow all of its counties to adopt fire codes.

Texas was not helpless to prevent the level of human suffering caused by the explosion (whose cause is still not clear). Although much has been said about how West Fertilizer did not tell Homeland Security (DHS) about the ammonium nitrate, this non-filing was in accordance with DHS regulations. West Fertilizer did, however, disclose the chemical to both the State of Texas and McLennan County. Nevertheless, the city of West, Texas, allowed the building of high-density housing close to the ammonium nitrate retail outlet. Furthermore, the local school district TAXED the citizens of West to build a school near the retail outlet.

Texas was not helpless. By ignoring publicly available information that West Fertilizer had disclosed to the government, Texas, McLennan County, the City of West, and the West school district ALL exacerbated the problem.

Robert Hardy
Robert Hardy4 years ago

Your conclusion is useless.

Mitch D.
Mitch D4 years ago

Thank you Lawrence T for the Mark K smack down! His comments are baseless and so inane.

I know why TX is helpless:

- LOW or NO corporate tax

- NO regulation or protection -- this story is what happens because of this lack of oversight.

Sarah Mumford
S M4 years ago

Increase the fine and also fine.

And why? - 'America will spend hundreds of billions on wars that are in the name of preventing future terrorist bombings, but if a million-dollar company is wilfully reckless and accidentally blows people up, there is no money to address this issue.' The world is suffering from America spending billions on war ... for oil reasons it seems, so if they kept home safer we outside America might be safer as less money to spend on war.

Philip S.
Philip S4 years ago

Leah H do more research on Libertarians, by your comment you have no idea what they are.

Frank S.
Past Member 4 years ago

There is OSHA and other safeguards in place to prevent such accidents, This is what happens when companies choose to not obey the rules.

Its always cheaper to pay the fine then to fix whats broken.

Thats why the Hudson River has become so polluted, companies like IBM, GE, Tuck Tape, US Gypsum and many more have been paying off government officials to look the other way, thus the people are stuck with a polluted river.

The incompetence in the White House past and present always trickles down to every branch in government..