On April 17th, West Fertilizer Co. in the small town of West, Texas provided for a horrible reminder of the failing bureaucratic structure in the first world. Now, don’t get me wrong, no one system will ever be perfect and no one system can ever account or substitute for the errors of human nature. However, when democratic institutions, so plagued by an endless structure of bureaucracy, fail to fulfill their main purposes for existence and 14 people die, it just reminds us of all of the work we have yet to do and we fail to do as a society. And, yes, I said WE. I’m not saying we all need to be superheroes and save the world from it’s impending doom (although it would be nice), but there is a role we all play in society whether we’d like to or not; even as the bystanders.
At all levels of society, at all levels of democratic institutions there are human beings running the show and for this reason I mention “we”. What do I mean by this exactly? Well: who is the incompetent, mindless, IDIOT who works in that particular department of Homeland Security that could let West Fertilizer Co.’s owner run free and bathe in money while people’s lives were at stake? Whatever happened to the concept of “due diligence that the American legal system keeps shoving in people’s and business owner’s faces?
Oh, right, I forgot; the laws seem to bend for those with financial power. It’s like we have a “no see, no hear, no speak” policy suddenly implemented every time we, as a society (and especially institutions) have to deal with Mr.Big Bucks who follows the “profit before people” motto.
For all of you free-market defenders and large business owners, don’t get offended just yet. No worries, I am not a “free-market hater” in any way and I support entrepreneurism It just baffles my mind when the extensive bureaucracy that is found in institutions in democratic states (such as USA and Canada) run you down and practically put surveillance on your every breath when you owe 50 bucks and yet they let big stuff like this slip. I mean really? Is this why you’ve been created as an institution? Sure as hell isn’t what your “mission statement” stands for.
This plant is a prime example of my critique, not only because you’d be surprised at how often similar, and unfortunate things like these happen but because many people are still trying to figure out how on earth they got away with everything. West Fertilizer Co. had approximately 270 tons of ammonium nitrate, 1,350 times the legally acceptable amount (data attained from article in CNN News online). Give me a second while I process this information…. W-T-F? Are you KIDDING me?
What blows my mind even more is the fact that the community (specifically pertinent authorities) at West, which now has innocent victims and family members paying the price, did not do their part. I say this because reports with concerns were filed to town authorities and yet none of such thought maybe giving Homeland Security a call might have been… an obvious step? You know, considering there are schools, institutions, people nearby the plant and employees working at the plant?
This facility was known to have chemicals well above the threshold amount to be regulated under the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards Act (CFATS), yet we understand that DHS did not even know the plant existed until it blew up.
Failure to report significant volumes of hazardous chemicals at a site can lead the Department of Homeland Security to fine or shut down fertilizer operations, a person familiar with the agency’s monitoring regime said. Though the department has the authority to carry out spot inspections at facilities, it has a small budget for that and only a “small number” of field auditors(Attained from The Globe and Mail, link to article here).
In my modest opinion, failures like these that are deadly and yet preventable occur precisely because there is an erroneous focus altogether in what our societal values are. Safety should be NUMBER ONE not second to profit or free-market ideals. If more government intervention and/or regulation is needed then, heck, it’s necessary! Where is the money being invested?; (other than the obvious… in the top exec’s and officials’ pockets).
The most insulting fact to the Department of Homeland Security and in turn to the supposedly almost-flawless bureaucratic structure of first-world institutions is the fact that this fertilizer plant had been “sketchy” since 2006. That should have been sufficient for eyes to be kept on them, from a distance at least.
In 2012, the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration fined West Fertilizer $5,250 for storing anhydrous ammonia in tanks that lacked the proper warning labels. The agency originally recommended a $10,000 penalty, but it was reduced after the company took corrective action.
In 2006, the EPA fined it $2,300 owners to correct problems that included a failure to file a risk management program plan on time. The TCEQ also investigated a complaint about the lingering smell of ammonia around the plant the same year. (Source: CNN article by Matt Smith)
So, excuse me while I sit here, shake my head in frustration and continue to think this system of disorganized, flawed and wrongfully-oriented bureaucracy is crap; but the results are obvious because no one can take back the pain being felt in West, Texas today, but someone will hopefully bring the negligent to justice.
- Lawmaker: Texas fertilizer plant ‘was willfully off the grid’ (rawstory.com)
- ProPublica: What Went Wrong in West, Texas – and Where Were the Regulators? (euzicasa.wordpress.com)
- What Went Wrong in West, Texas – and Where Were the Regulators? (sgtreport.com)
- Fertilizer Plant Had 1,350 The Amount of Explosives it Should Have (gawker.com)
- Texas Plant Had 270 Tons of Explosive Material, Was Not Being Monitored for Safety (truthdig.com)
- Texas Fertilizer Plant Failed To Disclose Massive Amount Of Ammonium Nitrate (livewire.talkingpointsmemo.com)
- Fertilizer Company Kept Danger from Feds (drudge.com)
- What went wrong in West, Texas – and where were the regulators? (rawstory.com)
- Fertilizer Plant Didn’t Report 270 Tons of Ammonium Nitrate (newser.com)