Texas lawmakers hope to fill gaps found in West explosion

A smashed car sits in front of an apartment complex destroyed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, as firefighters conduct a search and rescue Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed 15 people and injured more than 160. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
A smashed car sits in front of an apartment complex destroyed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, as firefighters conduct a search and rescue Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed 15 people and injured more than 160. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — When ammonium nitrate caught fire and exploded at the West Fertilizer Plant two years ago, the sound of the blast could be heard more than 80 miles away. Looking back, some lawmakers are shocked that the fertilizer plant had a liability insurance policy for only $1 million. Perhaps more surprisingly, there is currently no Texas law requiring these facilities to have any liability insurance.

The blast caused more than $230 million in property damages and claimed 15 lives, including 10 firefighters.

“I was just really surprised. I mean you and I, we drive cars and we need liability insurance or some form of insurance,” said Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, who has filed a bill to require such plants to have adequate insurance. “(It) can potentially be a dangerous situation that I think should require insurance.”

If passed, the law would authorize the Texas Department of Insurance to decide what amount of coverage would be adequate based on risk factors and the population of the surrounding area. If the facilities prove they have safety procedures in place, their premium rates could go down.

“It’s an acknowledgement by the state that this is important and we think it is important enough to put into state law,” said Rodriguez.

He views it as a proactive attempt to improve safety and hold facilities responsible for picking up the tab for the damage, should another accident occur.

Ammonium Nitrate in Central Texas

There are currently 74 companies storing more than 10,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate in our area.

Approximately 60,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate caused the explosion in West, but investigators say more regulation could have helped prevent the disaster. The plant did not have sprinklers because it was not required. Investigators also say the wooden containers were combustible and likely made the fire worse. Despite their year-long investigation, officials never determined the cause of the initial fire.

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