Defendants Added To Lawsuit Over West Explosion

The site of the deadly West explosion. (Photo by Kyle Muscarello)
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WACO (January 18, 2014) Lawyers representing about 200 plaintiffs in a series of lawsuits filed in the aftermath of the deadly fertilizer plant explosion in West filed a new petition Friday that specifically details what they say happened and who should be responsible.

The new filing adds three defendants to the lawsuit, International Chemical Co. of Tulsa, Okla., CF Industries Nitrogen Delaware Corp. and CF Industries Enterprises, all of which played a role in making or supplying the nitrogen-based fertilizer products,

The defendants now include CF Industries Sales, of Wilmington, Delaware, CF Industries Holdings, CF Industries Inc., CF Industries Enterprises, CF Industries Nitrogen LLC, all of Deerfield, Illinois, International Chemical Company, of Tulsa, Oklahoma and Adair Grain, Inc., of West.

CF Industries is the second largest nitrogen fertilizer producer and third largest phosphate fertilizer producer among public companies in the world, according to information on the company’s Website.

The CF Industries defendants began selling and supplying agricultural fertilizer, a primary component of which was ammonium nitrate, about two years before the explosion on April 17, 2013, that killed 15 people, injured more than 160 and damaged or destroyed dozens of homes and buildings including three of the town’s schools, an apartment building and a nursing home.

In March and April, according to the petition, CF Industries components made two shipments of fertilizer to the West company, each of which totaled 100 tons.

The March shipment already had been unloaded from railroad cars and was stored inside the West company’s building.

About 30 tons of the first shipment still was stored inside the building on the day of the explosion and it was that stockpile that exploded, the petition says.

The April shipment still was stored outside the building in railroad cars.

“On April 17, 2013, a catastrophic and devastating explosion occurred at the West Fertilizer Company. The explosion happened when a substantial portion of the thirty (30) tons of agricultural grade ammonium nitrate stockpiled in the fertilizer mixing building detonated,” the petition says.

According to the petition, “The United States Geological Survey recorded the explosion as a 2.1 magnitude tremor.

“Many living in the area reported that the blast felt like an earthquake.

“Actual structural damage related to the explosion was noted as far away as Abbott, Texas (a distance of more than seven miles from the fertilizer mixing facility).

The petition also says had the manufacturer properly inspected the West facility the tragedy might have been averted.

Investigators spent weeks excavating the blast site.

They determined that the fire that led to the powerful explosion was caused either by a battery-powered golf cart that was kept in the fertilizer and seed building in which the fire started, the building’s 120-volt electrical system or by an intentional criminal act.

A total of as much as 64 tons of ammonium nitrate was stored in the building, 28 to 34 tons of which exploded, investigators said, while an additional 20 to 30 tons in the building and another 100 tons in a nearby rail car did not explode.

The total amount of ammonium nitrate on the site was about 150 tons, less than 270 tons that federal records indicated was stored at the plant.

By comparison, the amount of ammonium nitrate that exploded on April 17 in West was about 12 times the amount used in the truck bomb that blew the side off of the Albert P. Murrah federal building on April 19, 1995 in Oklahoma City.

The fire actually caused two explosions, just milliseconds apart, Assistant State Fire Marshal Kelly Kistner said.

The first, which was the result of some combination of heat, building pressure from containment and shock from falling debris and equipment, triggered the second larger blast, he said.

Twelve first responders and three residents died in the explosion.