A year ago today, the families of 15 people—including 12 volunteer firefighters—in the town of West, Texas started their day not knowing that they had given their last goodbye to their loved ones. The small community of 2,800 was devastated when a fire broke out at a fertilizer plant, leading to an explosion that felt like a 2.1 magnitude earthquake. The blast killed 15, injured hundreds, destroyed 120 homes and damaged 200 dwellings.
Video of the explosion from three different angles from WTSP.
Business owner Bryan Anderson was in his truck with his son Kaden when the explosion occurred near the middle school, he said, “It blew us across the road. The glass and debris and airbags.” He and Kaden were injured but survived. Even today his son is frightened by loud noises and attends therapy weekly. “It’ll never be the same,” said Anderson. “But every time I really do get down I think of all the people that have it way worse than me. I’ve got a bunch of phone numbers in my phone that I can’t call anymore, and I could be one of those. Kaden could be one of those.”
A new study shows that almost 10,000 schools—attended by an estimated 4.6 million children—are located within a mile of a chemical facility.
Many survivors of the blast still struggle today. The human toll of this tragedy is terrible. But, the fact that little to nothing has been done to prevent future events like this is a travesty. The dangers posed to our families by chemical plants are all too real. In fact, a new study showed that almost 10,000 schools—attended by an estimated 4.6 million children—are located within a mile of a chemical facility. In West, Texas, schools and homes were much closer than that.
While the Obama administration mulls changes, nothing has been done to change fertilizer rules since the explosion. Presidential Executive Order 13650, calling for a federal, interagency report due within a few weeks, is a hopeful beginning but, the devil is in the details, and it yet remains to be seen what concrete steps emerge from that process. Texas Governor Rick Perry says any new rules should wait until after the state completes its investigation. But, in Texas alone, the State Fire Marshall says there are 26 facilities storing large amounts of fertilizer like the plant in West.
But, without federal leadership and action in states around the nation, we’re—sadly—probably going to see more terrible tragedies like West. But, they won’t be accidents. Because an accident is something you didn’t see coming.