When I think about the recent tragedies in Boston & West, Texas I am moved to a few comparisons.
The Boston terror attack by two killed 3 and wounded more than 140. Hunting these two suspects down and bringing them to justice was the biggest public media spectacle since OJ Simpson’s famous white Bronco ride.
The West, Texas MCI at West Fertilizer Co. killed 15 and injured 180 and the media has not reported any names of possible suspects. Nobody even seems to be looking. No breathless minute-by-minute TV conjecture and no new Twitter hashtags.
Everyone wants to call it a tragic accident. I’m less sanguine about the accidental part. I call it potentially criminal.
Texas state regulators claimed that the West, TX fertilizer plant’s “worst-case scenario would be a 10-minute release of gas that would injure no one.” Instead soon after catching fire it blew up and destroyed 150 buildings in a five-block radius.
The place had 270 tons of ammonium nitrate stored and did not report it to DHS as required. That is more than a half-million pounds. Bomber Timothy McVeigh used forty 50-pound bags which he potentiated by adding 2 accelerants.
The company claimed it “was not handling flammable materials” and “did not have sprinklers, water-deluge systems, blast walls, fire walls or other safety mechanisms in place at the plant,” the AP reported.
It was immediately adjacent to train tracks, two schools, a nursing home, an apartment building and the EMS station.
Some have postulated deregulation is partly to blame. They say OSHA has been gutted and Texas businesses are famously deregulated. Sometimes another word for deregulated is lawless. OSHA has not inspected the fertilizer plant since 1985.
But in this case there are probably those with more direct culpability. Somebody could have prevented it. Somebody knew what risks were being imposed on what number of unknowing people. I’m betting more than one person knew.
West, Texas is the size of a postage stamp. If it’s at all like my small town everybody knows everybody else’s business. Only one individual understood the perilous risks and ignored them? Not in a town that size.
This was a man-made explosive disaster. In that respect it’s not too different than Boston. Just a whole lot bigger boom and five times the number of fatalities.
The 12 dead first responders at least deserve having a grand jury look into it.
Update Friday May 10th – There is going to be a criminal probe.