Officials at the West Fertilizer Co. plant where a massive explosion killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160 on Wednesday told the Environmental Protection Agency and local authorities that the factory presented no risk of explosion.
The company wrote that there was “no” risk of fire or explosion on a required emergency planning report, according to a review of the documents by the Dallas Morning News.
In the report, the company said it had up to 54,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia -- a gas with suffocating fumes that can explode if it’s lit at very high temperatures -- on hand, but indicated that the worst-case scenario that could take place would be a 10-minute release of the gas that wouldn’t result in any injuries or deaths.
Sergeant W. Patrick Swanton of the Waco Police said in a press conference Thursday morning that while there’s no indication the blast was a result of criminal activity, “we’re not ruling that out,” according to the New York Times.
West Fertilizer Co. could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
The company was cited in 2006 for failing to get or qualify for a permit, according to the Associated Press. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality also investigated the plant that year after receiving a complaint of an ammonia smell that was “very bad.”
The company was fined in 2006 by the EPA for failing to have an adequate risk management plan, WFAA-TV reports.
The company wasn’t one of the six fertilizer plants in Texas inspected by the Occupation Safety and Health Administration over the last five years, according to data cited by Nation reporter Lee Fang in a tweet. As ThinkProgress notes, OSHA is severely understaffed, which means that workplaces can only expect to receive a state OSHA inspection once every 67 years.
Though explosions at fertilizer plants are rather uncommon -- there have been 17 unintended blasts that resulted in casualties since 1921, six of which were in the United States -- the risk could increase as the fertilizer industry is poised to grow. The U.S. fertilizer sector reported $10 billion in revenues in 2011, and global demand for fertilizer is booming, according to the Washington Post.
It appears the U.S. is in a good position to capture most of that growth, thanks to fracking, according to WaPo. That’s because a lot of fertilizer is made with natural gas, which is available on the cheap in the U.S. now thanks to the controversial practice.