Well, an unknown number of citizens of the small town of West, Texas and the surrounding area, will never have to worry about their jobs again. They’re dead. West Fertilizer Company exploded like a mini-Hiroshima Wednesday night after an initial fire at 7:30 PM morphed into a giant blast. And who knows what the final casualty count may be as the number of injured will most likely exceed even those victimized in the Boston Marathon bombings. Accurate fatality numbers are hard to come by at this time because of the wide-spread nature of the blast and rubble still to be dug through. The numbers range from 8-10, to West Mayor, Tommy Muska’s original estimate of 35-36 to as many as 65-70 according to the West Director of Emergency Services, George Smith. Many of the West survivors will never have to worry about their jobs either as their injuries will render them incapable of ever working again.
But basically the secession-leaning, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry dumb-ass state of Texas will have triumphed over “The Man.” After being fined in 2006 for “failing to have a risk management assessment that met federal standards and after no Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspections for the last five years, the West Fertilizer Company has been self-inspecting. They’ve assured officials that they conduct a safety inspection once a day. And even though the plant stores nearly 25 tons of one of the most dangerous chemicals on the planet, not to worry. The maximum leakage would be 10 minutes with zero injuries or deaths. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) was told that the tanks would not pose a danger. Did TCEQ ever follow up? Did they bother to challenge any of the company self-serving conclusions?
There are 3 Perry-appointed, full-time TCEQ Commissioners. You might remember that Perry lied when he said more and more scientists were questioning man’s contribution to global warming. Toby Baker is one of the Perry Commissioners. He was a former Natural Resources Policy adviser to Texas State Senator Craig Estes. Estes is an Oral Roberts grad who co-authored a draconian voter-ID bill, struck down by the courts and who serves on the board of the Texas Wingnut Coalition Research Institute. The Institute’s site features a lengthy anti-fed regulation Op-Ed.
How proud Paul Ryan and his agency-slashing groupies must be. Their last austerity numbers for OSHA featured a cut of over 20% of the budget; somewhere around $100 million. Like all of his utter fool right-wing colleagues, Ryan believes that leaving worker safety in the hands of private company inspections works just fine.
Well, it doesn’t. Company owners and top management lie like most extremists repugicans. The tragedy is that it takes a death and injury count approaching 200 (or maybe more) to prove it. Compounding the tragedy is that there are two schools, a nursing home, a hospital, residences and at least one apartment complex (now flattened) to expose the lies.
Having come from a rural background, I can assure you that Anhydrous Ammonia (NH3; 1 part nitrogen, 3 parts hydrogen) high concentration nitrogen fertilizer is nothing to mess with (a key component of Tim McVeigh’s bomb). A drop of the stuff on your arm and you’d better have gallons of water to throw on it or you’ll damn near freeze (or burn) your arm off. In the field, a smart farmer will wear a long-sleeve work shirt, chemical protective tight-fitting goggles, cuffed rubber gloves and a respirator. That’s how potentially dangerous the stuff is.
Here’s the problem. On paper, it would seem unlikely that stored anhydrous ammonia would represent much of an explosion threat because the gas only ignites at about 20% vapor concentrations. The company swears their tanks were only filled to 85% capacity. All is well and good until something comes along that turns a benign gas into a volatile deadly mixture. And that’s what happened in West, Texas Wednesday evening. Experts will be looking for the cause of the rising enabling temperatures. Not to scare the citizenry even more, but there’s a minimal chance the explosion could have been intentionally enabled. I doubt that’s the case, however.
Like the Boston Marathon obscenity, this is still an evolving story. I think you’re going to find that early hints of lies, incompetence and greed are going to be pretty much on the mark. So, due largely to the intransigence of repugicans toward regulation, more children and adults die or are severely injured in an explosion that could have been avoided by honest oversight. Greater numbers have been wounded or maimed and still the love of guns and hatred of gays is enough to protect the ballot box for most repugican candidates.
Don’t give up. I think repugican and independent women are starting to get it.