While the country's remained fixated on the aftermath of the Boston bombing, a deeply disconcerting set of details about last week's fertilizer plant explosion in Texas has been largely overlooked. Being overlooked is a familiar state of affairs for the the West Fertilizer Plant, however. Federal authorities have been overlooking the site of one of America's largest industrial accidents in recent memory for decades. Not months, not years but decades. According to the Huffington Post, the last time "the last time regulators performed a full safety inspection of the facility was nearly 28 years ago."
Oh dear that's bad. Three decades is a long time to avoid doing anything — much less anything involving massive amounts of explosive material. There were some partial inspections done, but the number of red flags in the air around that plant are starting to obscure the blue sky. There are so many!
Take, for example, the quantity of ammonium nitrate at the plant. Ammonium nitrate, of course, is the material that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh used in his 1995 attack that killed 168 people. The West Fertilizer Plant had 135 times the amount of ammonium nitrate as McVeigh used — 270 tons to be precise. That sounds excessive, and according to the Department of Homeland Security, it is. In fact, Reuters reports, the plant was storing "been storing 1,350 times the amount of ammonium nitrate that would normally trigger safety oversight by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security."
Lawmakers are starting to get pretty upset by the state of affairs. Whereas the Boston bombing was an unspeakable tragedy, an apparent random act of violence, the West Fertilizer Plant explosion was an accident that might've been prevented by simply adhering to safety procedures already in place. "It seems this manufacturer was willfully off the grid," Rep. Bennie Thompson, the ranking Republican member of the House Committee on Homeland Security (DHS), said on Monday. "This facility was known to have chemicals well above the threshold amount to be regulated under the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards Act, yet we understand that DHS did not even know the plant existed until it blew up."
File that last line under things we never want to hear a congressman say again. The whole point of the DHS is to catch things before they blow up. While it will take a while before we realize who failed to catch the Boston bombers before they acted, it's immediately apparent that government failed to enforce long-established safety measures. And half a town is now gone as a result.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.