West Fertilizer Plant explosion leaves community devastated

April 19, 2013
Death toll mounts, but suspects remain at large.

The FBI has no suspects in custody. I haven’t seen a single news story on cable television about the explosion today. It’s like it never even happened. But it did happen, didn’t it? Just days ago.

At least five people are dead, and the death toll could reach as high as 30 or 40 when all missing persons are counted and all critical injuries take their tolls. More than 160 people are in area hospitals with injuries.

The blast itself registered as a 2.1-magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale. Runners were screaming, and many of them were very lucky to have escaped the devastation.

Two younger boys, in fact, managed to run to a woman driving in a car, who picked them up and started driving away from the plant when it exploded.

No, this isn’t about the Boston Marathon explosions. I’m referring to the explosion that occurred this week at the West Fertilizer Plant, about 18 miles from Waco, Texas, where the local community is devastated and now worry about the spread of anhydrous ammonia in the aftermath of the explosion.

The only thing this blast has in common with the Boston tragedy is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives had sent the same national response team that worked the Boston Marathon site to lead the investigation at the West Fertilizer Plant. And the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (www.csb.gov) already had dispatched an investigation crew, as well.

Mike Bacidore has been an integral part of the Putman Media editorial team since 2007, when he was managing editor of Control Design magazine. Previously, he was editorial director at Hughes Communications and a portfolio manager of the human resources and labor law areas at Wolters Kluwer. Bacidore holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He is an award-winning columnist, earning a Gold Regional Award and a Silver National Award from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He may be reached at 630-467-1300 ext. 444 or [email protected] or check out his .

The most recent tallies in Boston identify three dead and approximately 130 injured. It’s not that the lower numbers make the marathon disaster any less significant to the affected families or the population at large. But the explosion and destruction in Texas have gone all but unnoticed, as concerned citizens submit photographs from the Boston Marathon to FBI investigators, hoping they’ll help, and we all watch cable television’s minute-by-minute coverage of the search for the suspects.

I found myself in a local ice arena last night and was huddled around the lobby television with everyone else, watching the latest reports on the Boston Marathon bombing suspects. The nation is hypnotized by the drama.

Yet, only the small town of West, Texas, and its population that used to total around 2,500 people are concerned by the implications of the fertilizer-plant explosion.

It happens all too often. Plants explode. People die. Nobody cares, except the affected families.

The Boston Marathon attack is a sorry situation with underlying effects on the American psyche. But the Texas explosion is equally destructive. And maybe, if we gave it at least equal consideration, the publicity might help to deter future tragedies.

If the much-publicized FBI manhunt of the Boston bombings and all of the national attention are partly designed to prevent future similar attacks, we have to wonder if similar handling and coverage of the West, Texas, disaster also would help to make plants safer and motivate companies, managers, and employees to be responsible corporate citizens and avoid the risks that make plants dangerous.

Read Mike Bacidore's monthly column, From the Editor.


Worthy thoughts. People do need to get angry about plant safety, even though it's better than it was a few years ago, it should be better still.
Stanton McGroarty

I think you nailed it right on the head. The Boston marathon tragedy happened during a public event but the plant explosion near Waco was far more destructive and cost more lives. It is time to hold the plant executives accountable for their actions.
Stuart Smith

Give me one example when a plant executive wasn't held accountable? The issue with the Boston bombings was that we had to identify and then catch the guys who did it. The media did us a service by making everyone aware so that they could help catch those responsible. I doubt that is the case with the fertilizer plant. I work at a chemical plant and our feedstock has been used as war chemicals. I hear much more talk at work about the fertilizer plant than I do about the Boston bombings.
John Chatfield

No, this is purely mismanagement of plant equipment. Being in USA, some people think that they can do magics or it will happen magics. But ultimately many people lost  lives as well as millions or sometimes billions of money goes in water. (actually in fire) Not only the profit but you have to manage and "feed" your plants with right choice of "food" and "cloth" !!! Otherwise it will make stubborn things in front of your very eyes. So keep your tight belts in a side, do whatever recommended by plant manufacturers, engineers or even technicians. Listen to vital signs of failiure before something great happen. In short, this accident definitely because of neglgigence. Finally, some people lost their lives cause of one or two persons comfort.
Sajeewa Wickremasinghe

Sponsored Recommendations

Arc Flash Prevention: What You Need to Know

March 28, 2024
Download to learn: how an arc flash forms and common causes, safety recommendations to help prevent arc flash exposure (including the use of lockout tagout and energy isolating...

Reduce engineering time by 50%

March 28, 2024
Learn how smart value chain applications are made possible by moving from manually-intensive CAD-based drafting packages to modern CAE software.

Filter Monitoring with Rittal's Blue e Air Conditioner

March 28, 2024
Steve Sullivan, Training Supervisor for Rittal North America, provides an overview of the filter monitoring capabilities of the Blue e line of industrial air conditioners.

Limitations of MERV Ratings for Dust Collector Filters

Feb. 23, 2024
It can be complicated and confusing to select the safest and most efficient dust collector filters for your facility. For the HVAC industry, MERV ratings are king. But MERV ratings...