The West Fertilizer Company plant explosion in West, Texas, is an international news story without many details having been provided by law enforcement, fire investigators or emergency services directors.
The number of deaths has not been confirmed but has fluctuated from around a dozen to 70 in the news media, which is scrambling to grab readers with sensational headlines and be the first with the “latest news.”
What is known is that the initial fire call from the fertilizer plant occurred at 7:29 p.m. Wednesday night, and 24 minutes later as firefighters, police and paramedics were at the site and evacuating nearby residents the devastating explosion that measured an equivalent of a 2.1 magnitude earthquake shook the small town.
The cause of the fire and explosion is completely unknown at this time.
As for what fertilizer has been produced at the site and the volume of various chemicals on the site, nothing concrete has been released to the media; therefore, there is all kinds of speculation about the volume and type of fertilizer ingredients on the site. Initial reports were about large volumes of anhydrous ammonia. Ammonium nitrate has been mentioned by consumer media comparing the blast to the Oklahoma City bombing.
Everything is speculation because as of 10 a.m. Thursday morning there still had not been a West Fertilizer official stepping forward to answer media questions, and the government investigators weren’t in a situation to provide details. The search for bodies was still in progress and the whereabouts of everyone in the community was still being accounted for.
It was interesting to see the media putting together side stories of blame without any basis for the explosion. Reporters dug back into the regulatory reports to find the most recent violation write-up was for a 10-minute release of anhydrous ammonia occurring in 2006. Then there are the reports and speculation about the lack of inspection of the facilities by understaffed state and federal regulators. Additionally, there are some media writing blame articles about the company not being forthright in filing reports on the fire and explosion potential at the site.
Of course everyone in the agricultural industry is upset that products related to crop production have resulted in the loss of life. The Agricultural Retailers Association and The Fertilizer Institute staffs noted their sadness and said their thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by this incident.