West, TX Fertilizer Plant Had Only $1 Million Liability Insurance

The instant of the West, TX explosion captured in a video posted on YouTube on April 17, 2013.

The instant of the West, TX explosion captured in a video posted on YouTube on April 17, 2013.

The Washington Post:

McALLEN, Texas — The Texas fertilizer plant that exploded last month, killing 14 people, injuring more than 200 others and causing tens of millions of dollars in damage to the surrounding area had only $1 million in liability coverage, lawyers said Saturday.

Tyler lawyer Randy C. Roberts said he and other attorneys who have filed lawsuits against West Fertilizer’s owners were told Thursday that the plant carried only $1 million in liability insurance. Brook Laskey, an attorney hired by the plant’s insurer to represent West Fertilizer Co., confirmed the amount Saturday in an email to The Associated Press, after the Dallas Morning News first reported it.

“The bottom line is, this lack of insurance coverage is just consistent with the overall lack of responsibility we’ve seen from the fertilizer plant, starting from the fact that from day one they have yet to acknowledge responsibility,” Roberts said.

Apparently, Texas’ lax regulations are implicated in this latest outrage.

“It’s rare for Texas to require insurance for any kind of hazardous activity,” [Roberts] said. “We have very little oversight of hazardous activities and even less regulation.”

That’s disgusting. The news was first reported by The Dallas Morning News:

“A million dollars is a pathetic amount for this type of dangerous activity,” lawyer Randy C. Roberts said.

“If you want to drive a truck down the interstate, you’ve got to have $750,000 in coverage, even if you’re just carrying eggs,” Roberts said. “But if you want to put this ammonium nitrate into this town next to that school and that nursing home and those houses, you’re not required to carry insurance.” [....]

Property damage alone in West could reach $100 million, according to the Insurance Council of Texas, an industry association. The April 17 explosion destroyed an apartment complex and seriously damaged a nursing home and a school. Several hundred homes also sustained damage, with some leveled to the foundation.

An attorney for United States Fire Insurance Co. of Morristown, N.J., confirmed Friday that West Fertilizer had $1 million in liability coverage “with no excess or umbrella coverage.”
Fertilizer facilities like the one in West are not required to have liability insurance that would compensate for damage they might cause, state insurance officials say, even if hazardous material is on hand.

West Fertilizer had reported having 270 tons of ammonium nitrate on site as of the end of last year. Outside experts have said it appears the chemical exploded during a fire on company property.

Donald and Wanda Adair, owners of the West, TX Fertilizer Co.

Donald and Wanda Adair, owners of the West, TX Fertilizer Co.

In other disturbing news, the West plant has been broken into by thieves “at least” 11 times “over the past 12 years.”

The Texas fertilizer plant that exploded two weeks ago, killing 14 people and injuring about 200, was a repeat target of theft by intruders who tampered with tanks and caused the release of toxic chemicals, police records reviewed by Reuters show.

Police responded to at least 11 reports of burglaries and five separate ammonia leaks at West Fertilizer Co over the past 12 years, according to 911 dispatch logs and criminal offense reports Reuters obtained from the McLennan County Sheriff’s office in Waco, Texas through an Open Records Request.

Some of the leaks, including one reported in October 2012, were linked to theft or interference with tank valves.

According to one 2002 crime report, a plant manager told police that intruders were stealing four to five gallons of anhydrous ammonia every three days. The liquid gas can be used to cook methamphetamine, the addictive and illicit stimulant.

In rural areas across the United States, the thriving meth trade has turned storage facilities like West Fertilizer Co and even unattended tanks in farm fields into frequent targets of theft, according to several government and fertilizer industry reports issued over the past 13 years.

Unbelievable.

More from Bloomberg:

“It’s hard to say what measures they were taking, but clearly the number of reported instances of burglary is alarming,” Sam Mannan, who teaches chemical engineering at Texas A&M University in College Station, said in an interview. “Probably their measures were not up to snuff.”‘ [....]

The facility was often open after hours, as farmers frequently need access to fertilizer and would pick up loads informally, said Ken Kubala, a former West city secretary. That attracted not only ammonia thieves but vandals and petty burglars, including one who watched pornography on an office computer and another who stole a box of Oreo cookies, according to the sheriff’s incident report.
Deputies found a leaking tank of anhydrous ammonia at the plant as recently as Oct. 15, after a resident reported an ammonia smell “so strong it can burn your eyes.” The plant manager turned off the tank and told deputies a valve had been tampered with, according to a police call log….

The reports of break-ins underscore the need for greater government oversight, said Tom Smith, the head of the Texas office of Public Citizen, a Washington-based nonprofit group that advocates for more regulation of hazardous industries.
This “adds a whole new level of complexity,” Smith said in an interview, referring to the news of the burglaries. At the state level, “nobody is sitting down and trying to safeguard these toxins or explosives.”

The current owners of the plant are Donald and Wanda Adair. The article says they did make an effort to stop the break-ins by putting in security cameras.

Honestly, this story just keeps getting worse. I don’t even know what to say, except that I feel for the people in West who have been affected and hope they will get some financial help from donations. Here are some suggestions of how to help from NBC News.

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38 Comments on “West, TX Fertilizer Plant Had Only $1 Million Liability Insurance”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Can you believe this sh*t? How do we know the initial fire didn’t start because of the “tampering” that was going on regularly?

  2. Holy SHIT!!!!

    What in the hell? Unbelievable…like you said bb, what can you say? It is horrible for the people of that town.

    • dakinikat says:

      it’s all about creating profits, everything else is just so much trouble … these people should be classified as terrorists and given the bin laden treatment …

      • I took a quick look around and I don’t see much of this making news…did it create any buzz earlier?

      • bostonboomer says:

        I found it on Google news, pretty high up at the time. But the Israeli bombing of Syria is getting the most attention everywhere.

      • RalphB says:

        The Adairs probably never in a million years thought something like this would happen. He’s probably some farmer who made some money and bought the place whenever it came up for sale. He may be ignorant enough to not realize how dangerous it actually was?

      • bostonboomer says:

        It seems like that, Ralph. They’ve lived in the community all their lives and have owned the plant for just a few years. Nevertheless, they are now hiding behind their attorneys and refusing to say anything.

      • RalphB says:

        Ignorane is really no excuse. He’s financially a goner I imagine.

  3. I just got online, I’ve been out most of the day, and this was the first thing I saw…wow.

  4. janicen says:

    How is that even possible? I am speechless. I cannot believe it. Those poor people.

    • RalphB says:

      It’s possible because the Texas state government doesn’t give a rat’s ass about anything but the dollar. It’s completely disgusting. The hell of it is, if you ask the people in West, I would bet the majority see the owners of the plant as victims for the most part.

      • If these owners are anything like the small town bigshots in Banjoville, they know what they were doing…and I would bet they have been making shitloads of money at the risk of the town’s people for years.

      • RalphB says:

        JJ, I wouldn’t doubt that for a minute. I know that’s true in most cases.

  5. boogieman7167 says:

    BB thx for posting this . think you do a great job of reporting this story & better than the MSM dose or ever will . and far as the lag of regulation or oversight I hate to say this, but from living in Texas it dose not surprise me at all . and I’m sure Texas politicians will do every thing in their power to look the other way . oh sure they will pretend to look concerned about the tragedy in WEST . ya got to remember most of these guys run on the policy on no regulation and little or no oversight

    • boogieman7167 says:

      in the end if the media where not so obsessed with boson bombings and the reporting more about the west tragedy maybe the feds got involved then possibly there might be some sort of accountably.

    • RalphB says:

      Sadly, the Texas politicians aren’t even pretending to care. They are beyond pathetic!

      • boogieman7167 says:

        that’s their nature they don’t care, I live in Texas I have to listen to there BS all the time

  6. RalphB says:

    Texas Tribune: Campus Carry, School Marshals Get Early OK in House

    Texas colleges, universities and public schools could see more firearm-carrying students or authorities under two gun rights expansion bills that got preliminary approval in the House on Saturday.

    Democrats unsuccessfully tried to derail House Bill 972, a measure by state Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Cypress, that allows colleges and universities to let concealed handgun license holders who are 21 or older — including, students, staff and faculty — store or carry weapons on campuses.

    Those two gun bills weren’t the only ones to pass the House on the lower chamber’s designed “Gun Day.”

    The House also passed measures that affect the renewal, cost and time required to obtain a concealed handgun license. Senate Bill 864 by state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-San Antonio, reduces the amount of training required for the permit to no more than six hours.

    The House also passed HB 485 by state Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place. That measure decreases the fee for a CHL to $25 for honorably discharged members of the military and volunteer or reserve peace officers. Davis allowed an amendment that would offer the discount to correctional officers who work for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, though she said she had concerns that it would swell the bill’s fiscal note. Both measures must be passed out of the House a third time before moving to the senate for consideration.

    This is what the texas legislature does, instead of worrying about regulating dangerous industries. I need to get the hell out of here.

  7. RalphB says:

    Austin American-Statesman: Battleground Texas wraps up 1st phase; now hard part begins

    In a cramped and musty office just across from the Rio Rita Lounge on East 6th Street, its walls painted a sickly Subway yellow, seven folks, average age 30, sit around an oval table, tapping on their laptops, plotting the takeover of the state of Texas.

    This, for the moment, is the nerve center of Battleground Texas, an effort led by fresh-faced veterans of the Obama campaign to take what they learned electing and re-electing a Democratic president of the United States and turn Texas blue. And do it without a candidate like Barack Obama, or any candidate for that matter, in what for Democrats has been a vast, snake-bit stretch of no se puede America for a generation, and without much prospect for a discernible payoff for years to come.

    So far, it’s going very well.

    “Texans are so excited, it’s unlike anything I’ve seen before,” said Battleground Texas’ executive director, Jenn Brown, the 31-year-old community organizer from Southern California who ran Obama’s field operation in indispensable Ohio in 2012. “Texans are ready. It’s time.”

    I feel better temporarily.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I’m glad there’s hope! I’m old enough to recall when Texas was a Democratic state.

  8. ecocatwoman says:

    Thanks bb for keeping us informed about this horrendous tragedy. It makes me wonder about the security and liability insurance on fertilizer plants across the country. How does an average citizen know if there are any businesses near them that work with and/or store hazardous chemicals? How would they ever know if the place is secure or if they have sufficient insurance? I had no idea that people who cook meth would use something stored at a fertilizer plant. Frankly, it makes me nervous. Who exactly is looking out for the people who live and/or work around businesses that could possibly explode? Just another example of how the PTB and many in our government see “the people” as expendable.

    • bostonboomer says:

      It makes me nervous too. I assume there must be businesses like this in Indiana.

      • ecocatwoman says:

        I know there’s one less than 2 miles from me that sells fertilizer only. There are a couple of “smoke stacks” as part of their property. Are they “cooking” the feritilizer there? I have no idea, but I plan to see what I can find out.

      • bostonboomer says:

        Yikes. Who knows? I need to try to find out more about this.

        • ecocatwoman says:

          I think everyone should, however, most people assume their gov’t (local, state, feds) is taking care of them. There’s nothing to worry about as far as they are concerned. And, personally, I think the really whacked out conspiracy folks help keep the average person from listening to people talking about the things they SHOULD be concerned about. Things like the Patriot Act taking away our civil rights, or not Mirandizing Tsarnaev (a US citizen & as you said yesterday, it could just as easily be any of us), FISA and so on. If the Glenn Beck’s of the world are crazy, then the whistleblower types must be as well, which allows gov’t to silence them.

      • RalphB says:

        My state has always been terrible at this but, as the recession has squeezed budgets, I imagine other states may be having a harder time with inspections etc now.

      • janey says:

        We had a business here right on the main drag of our small city. They moved to another location and wanted to sell their land. Local authorities said something like “clean it up or it can’t be sold”. Years later the plot of land is sitting empty right across the street from our city library. Still contaminated.

    • janicen says:

      That’s a very good point. There could be a fertilizer plant or who knows what kind of dangerous plant near my house and I would have no idea. Here these conservative idiots are insisting that we can’t close Gitmo and house dangerous terrorists on American soil when the truth is that we’d be a hell of a lot safer if all we had to worry about was a prison housing terrorists near our homes and schools.

      • ecocatwoman says:

        I just took a trip down the street to find out what companies are there. There are 3 – PetroLiance which has storage tanks. Their site talks about machinery, lubricants and petroleum distribution. http://petroliance.com/

        Then there is C L Industries. Apparently they manufacture the materials lining swimming pools. Who know about that stuff?

        Then there is Howard Fertilizer. From their website those are the corporate offices, with wholesale facilities there as well. http://www.howardfertilizer.com/Home.aspx However, checking further it looks like they make dry fertilizer in the Orlando facility for citrus & agriculture: http://www.howardfertilizer.com/se_locations.aspx Seriously, it’s only about 2 miles straight down the road from me.