AUSTIN Lawmakers had lots of questions at a hearing in the Texas Capitol Wednesday, including whether any state agency had raised concerns about the large amount of highly explosive ammonium nitrate that was stored at a fertilizer plant in West.
The answer, reports CBS Station KTVT, was simply, "No."
KTVT reports 41 other facilities in Texas also store large amounts of the chemical. The Dallas Morning News reports about 70 other facilities across the state also have some amount of ammonium nitrate or ammonium nitrate-based chemicals on-site, according to reports obtained by the paper from the Texas Department of State Health Services under a Texas Public Information Act request.
On April 17 the West Fertilizer plant explosion killed 14 people and injured about 200 others. Dozens of homes and businesses were damaged. The cost of the destruction is estimated to exceed $100 million.
At a state legislative hearing Wednesday, officials from a number of state agencies testified that the company had reported, as required, that it stored 270 tons of the potentially explosive material. But none of the agencies raised any red flags about how much was being stored there.
"It's limited to, did you fill out the paperwork? Did you report what's in your facility? Not whether those chemicals are stored safely or not," said David Lakey of the state's Department of Health Services.
Correspondent Jack Fink reports that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is investigating whether the company which operated the plant, Adair Grain, Inc., should have notified them about the quantity of ammonium nitrate stored there.
State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy said Wednesday that, while investigators hope to determine within the next nine days what caused the explosion, the cause may never be known for sure.
"If we eliminate all the causes, and we get down to two, and we cannot eliminate the other one, for example, it's going to have to be ruled undetermined," said Connealy. "Does that mean it was a poor fire investigation? Absolutely not."
Meanwhile, in West, a boil water order has been lifted, after the restoration of water service Wednesday.
Red Cross officials also said an assistance center that was scheduled to remain open through the weekend in West will now close on Friday. The Red Cross says nurses and counselors have made more
than 1,200 health contacts and 1,500 mental health contacts with area residents since the April 17 blast.