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The Destruction of West

The Destruction of West

 Hello, everyone.

 Last week, while we as a country were caught up in the Boston Bombing, there was another catastrophe in this country. A huge fertilizer plant in the tiny town of West, Texas, a short ways north of Waco exploded. The blast killed several people and was so severe that it registered at least 2 on the Richter Scale. It also created a crater at least 20 feet deep in the ground.

 People are being allowed back in in some areas near the blast, but the area closest to the plant is still off-limits. I saw one video of the damage done a ways away from the blast, and the place looked like a war zone. I saw only one short video; I couldn’t handle any more.

 On the Bing search page where I found the video, there is a link which said that some law firm has added a page to its website offering legal help for victims of the blast. Somehow, I believe that there will be several more similar pages showing up on the Net soon, and that is good.

 As I said above, the plant itself is still off-limits to reporters. The authorities apparently are still gathering what evidence they can find as to the cause of the blast. It is known that the plant contained a humongous amount of ammonium nitrate. Indeed, one account that I read said that the plant had ONE HUNDRED TIMES the amount of ammonium nitrate that Timothy McVeigh used in the Oklahoma City bombing. In case anyone’s chemistry is a tad rusty, the chemical formula for ammonium nitrate is NH4NO3. In essence, that is a blend of ammonia and nitric acid. It is one extremely powerful brew.

 On the Daily Kos site, Laura Clawson wrote a diary on Monday (4/22) titled “Toxic Texas politics on display in fertilizer plant explosion.” Here are the final three paragraphs of her diary:

In the West explosion, the majority of those killed were indeed first responders, who did not have any way of knowing the scope of what they faced. And those killed deserve to be remembered despite the fertilizer plant explosion having happened in the same week as the Boston Marathon bombing and the subsequent dramatic hunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. As Richard Kim writes:

What separates these victims from one another? Surely not innocence, for they are all innocent, and they all deserve to be mourned. And yet the blunt and awful truth is that, as a nation, we pay orders of magnitude more attention to the victims of terrorism than we do to the over 4,500 Americans killed each year while on the job. As former Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis once put it, “Every day in America, thirteen people go to work and never come home.” Very little is ever said in public about the vast majority of these violent and unnecessary deaths. And even when a spectacular tragedy manages to capture our collective attention—as the West explosion briefly did, as the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster did three years before—it is inconceivable that such an event would be constituted as a permanent emergency of world-historic proportions.”

Whatever precise combination of accident and chemicals and lack of safety precautions caused the West explosion, chances are, it was political. Not political in the sense that someone actively intended or tried to cause damage, but in the sense that it was made possible by a state government with intentionally weak safety and environmental regulations and federal and state governments that don’t put the needed resources toward enforcing what regulations should apply to a place like the West Fertilizer Co. Political in the sense that as a society we basically have agreed that disasters like this are, as Kim puts it, “the presumed cost of living in a modern, industrialized economy.” We should take disasters like this one as a reminder of the recklessness with human life that our political and economic systems tolerate and even encourage.”

One aspect of the fertilizer plant blast that no one seems to want to talk about is the locale of the plant in the community of West. In my following of the event, I saw only one plot or picture which showed its location. Two schools – a high school and a junior high – were essentially across the street from the plant. There was also a nursing home or extended care center located just as close to the plant as the schools. Given the video that I watched earlier, which was shot at some distance from the plant, one can only imagine the carnage at the nursing home and the schools. At least 14 people, mostly volunteer firefighters, are dead and at least 100 are injured. One can only hope that the extended care facility and its residents survived. The blast left a crater 22 feet deep in the ground.

In the Huffington Post for today, 4/23, an unsigned article contains some extremely interesting news. Here are 6 paragraphs from the article:

“Through interviews with former regulators and community leaders, as well as a review of hundreds of pages of documents going back to 1976, a sense emerges that no institution sounded the alarm here, even as fertilizer piled up inside the plant, creating a potentially deadly tinderbox in close proximity to the town. No one effectively prepared for the emergency that eventually materialized, leaving this community uniquely vulnerable to the tragedy that unfolded last week when the plant caught fire and exploded, killing 14 people and ripping apart an apartment building, a school and dozens of homes.

“In June 2011 — less than two years before the explosion — the private company that owns the plant, the West Fertilizer Co., filed an emergency response plan with the Environmental Protection Agency stating that there was “no” risk of fire or explosion at the facility. The worst scenario that plant officials acknowledged was the possible release of a small amount of ammonia gas into the atmosphere.

“Fertilizer long has been recognized as a dangerous combustible material. One variety, ammonium nitrate — a pellet-shaped product typically shipped in large bags — caused the deadliest industrial accident in American history, the explosion of a ship at the port of Texas City in 1947, which took the lives of more than 500 people.

“In 1995, Timothy McVeigh used about two tons of ammonium nitrate to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people. As recently as 2012, the West Fertilizer plant held some 270 tons of that substance, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

“Yet, according to a Reuters report, the stores of ammonium nitrate here never tripped the scrutiny of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which apparently was unaware of the plant’s existence.

“Documents reviewed by The Huffington Post indicate that the last time regulators performed a full safety inspection of the facility was nearly 28 years ago. The entity with primary authority to ensure workplace safety, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, last visited in 1985, according to OSHA records.”

Actually, the lack of interest by the Feds is easy to understand. George W. Bush was governor of Texas before he was elected President. They weren’t about to risk his wrath by nailing a Texas firm because of its stockpile of ammonium nitrate.

Back in 1980, there was a movie titled “Condominium” which dealt with a situation much like the Texas fertilizer plant. However, in this case, the problem wasn’t basically bad zoning, but bad construction materials. Here is a summary of the plot from the Internet Movie Database:

A new condominium is built right on the beach in Florida. Well, mother nature takes that as a challenge and decides to throw a hurricane at it. Of course, there is the mix of the mistress and wife finding out about each other, substandard building supplies, and stubborn people that won’t evacuate.

Here is what the website Moviefone has to say about it:

Condominium is a two-part, four-hour TV adaptation of the novel by John D. McDonald. The setting is a hastily constructed Florida high-rise, assembled at the least possible cost by its greedy owners. An oncoming hurricane threatens to topple the structure and its residents into the ocean. Various degrees of greed, lust, terror and concern are displayed by stars Steve Forrest, Dan Haggerty, Ralph Bellamy, Barbara Eden, Stuart Whitman, Jack Jones and Pamela Hensley. Produced for the syndicated “Operation Prime Time” series, Condominium was first made available to local stations on November 20, 1980.

The movie is on YouTube and, thanks to Firefox, I was able to download it. It is a piece of history as well as piece of entertainment because there are several stars in it that I haven’t heard of for years. Plus, there are some really cute girls in it, and that NEVER hurts!!

The common thread to “Condominium” and the fertilizer plant explosion is greed. As Moviefone says about the film, “The setting is a hastily constructed Florida high-rise, assembled at the least possible cost by its greedy owners.” In West, Texas, the greed is manifest in two basic ways. First, the company that owned the plant set up shop in Texas because that state’s laws in terms of industrial safety are virtually nonexistent. Thus, it did not have to pay out good money to bring the plant up to standards that would have been mandatory in other states, and thus it could pass that money on to its executives and shareowners. Second, the funding for OSHA and other federal watchdogs had been gutted by the Republicans – and compliant Democrats like Barak Obama – in order to guarantee more money for wars and gifts to the rich. Had there been SOME semblance of oversight by Texas and the Feds, then there is a good chance that the explosion and mayhem would not have happened.

It is extremely interesting – and sick, in my opinion – that the Republicans have run pell-mell to trash and blame Muslims and Islam for the Boston bombing – without any hard evidence of the same – but absolutely silent on the role that the West Fertilizer Company played in the explosion at West, Texas. That is easy to understand, since Republicans worship at the shrine of business and also hate and despise any religion that is not Judaism or Evangelical Christianity. But the difference lies in the evidence. There so far has been no discovery of hard evidence that Islam had directed the Tsarnaev Brothers to do what they did. There has been discovered hard evidence that West Fertilizer Company had stockpiled bags of ammonium nitrate pellets, to the tune that the plant contained almost 300 tons of the substance.

Dead people are dead people regardless of whether the deaths are caused by small black-powder pressure-cooker bombs or a huge stockpile of bomb-grade chemistry. They are also dead people regardless of whether the perpetrators of the explosion are two badly messed-up young men or a company seeking to cut costs any way it can to satisfy the greed of others. Already there are calls for background checks on people who for whatever reason purchase black powder or merchandise that contains it. There are also calls for even more stringent laws concerning Islam – in spite of the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion. Should there also not be SOME laws dealing with companies that skirt ecological and occupational safety laws and pose a risk to the communities where they are located?

All of you have yourselves a great day today.

Bill

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April 25, 2013 - Posted by | Miscellaneous, Politics, Religion | ,

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