Industrial Tragedy Rocks Texas Town, Tragic Week Continues with Fertilizer Plant Explosion

April 19, 2013 by Gregory J. Brod

It has been a week filled with difficult news. Our hearts go out to those injured in the Boston Marathon bombing and to the families of those killed in the attack. A day later, on Tuesday, a frightening story of envelopes potentially containing a dangerous poison followed. The week was already bad enough when, on Wednesday evening, an explosion rocked a Texas town. Our San Francisco industrial accident law firm is closely following this developing story, a case involving a workplace explosion and the added risk of toxic exposure.

Explosion Levels Town, Claims Lives, and Raises Concerns of Toxic Exposure
At the time of this writing, the story was still unfolding and The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas had claimed between five and fifteen lives. The incident occurred in the town of West, a community of 2,800 about twenty miles north of Waco. Reports indicate that an initial fire at the West Fertilizer Company broke out around 7:30 P.M. and was followed about 50 minutes later by a large explosion registering a 2.5 on the Richter scale. The blast leveled a five-block area and left a scene that Sergeant William Patrick Swanton of the Waco police department called “almost tornadic” in appearance. Other witnesses say it looked like a war zone. More than 150 people were taken to hospitals in the area, including at least 24 in critical condition and 38 more in serious condition at the time of the article. Injuries included broken bones, major lacerations, and burns. Emergency personnel who responded to the initial fire are believed to be among the victims and three to five firefighters were unaccounted for as of a briefing on Thursday morning.

In addition to the damage from the explosion itself, there are concerns about toxic exposure. Officials from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality were sent to the West area from San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth in order to monitor air quality and other environmental concerns. Sgt. Swanton urged people to avoid the immediate area of the blast, citing both the concern for new fires and the potential for ammonia leaks. Residents of Whitney, a town located approximately 25 miles from West, were told to stay indoors because of fumes. Heavy rains in the region on Thursday morning are believed to have helped diminish the amount of potential contaminants in the air.

Moving Ahead Following Tragedy
While it is too early to say for certain, officials believe that the explosion was an industrial accident and do not believe it was an act of terror. Like the Chevron refinery fire last August, the Texas fertilizer plant explosion is an example of a workplace accident that proved a danger to both plant workers and to the community surrounding the plant. From a legal standpoint (assuming it does prove to be an accident), it involves a multitude of potential issues including industrial safety, environmental law and toxic torts (i.e. claims related to injuries and illnesses stemming from the exposure to dangerous chemicals).

Our thoughts are with the people of West and the surrounding communities, as well as with the people of Boston in the wake of this week’s tragic events. May all the victims live in the hearts and memories of their loved ones and may our nation continue band together as we move forward from this tragic week.

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