The deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas recently has raised a host of questions about the safety of our industrial facilities.
As tragic as this incident was, our Rock Hill personal injury lawyers know it should not have been a total surprise to the company, considering a 2011 risk assessment report in which the firm told the Environmental Protection Agency that, yes, it had 54,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia on site, but there was absolutely no danger of an explosion or a fire.
Yet, here we are in the wake of an explosion involving that very chemical that killed 14 people and injured another 200 - most first-responders - and destroyed some 50 homes with a blast that could be felt an astonishing 50 miles away.
No risk? By whose standards?
What's especially troubling is that notice of the storage of another chemical at the factory, ammonium nitrate, wasn't even reported to the EPA by the company. This chemical is even more volatile than anhydrous ammonia, which is only flammable in conditions of extreme heat.
Even worse, this was not even the worst explosion in our nation's history by any means. In fact, the West, TX explosion happened almost 66 years to the day after the most deadly industrial accident in America. That case too happened in Texas, less than 250 miles away from this one.
It was April 17, 1947 when a plant in Texas City caught fire, thanks to a boat that had docked nearby, which had caught fire. It too contained ammonium nitrate fertilizer. As firefighters began to battle the blaze, the ship - and its combustible cargo - exploded. A 15-foot tidal wave was generate that flooded a huge swath of the city. Buildings were destroyed. A barge was blasted out of the water, landing more than 100 feet inland. Earthquake seismologists in Denver, several hundred miles away, were actually able to measure the blast on the Richter scale.
By the time the wreckage was cleared, a total of 581 people were found to have died.
A few years before that, in Port Chicago near San Francisco, some 400 tons of explosives were docked in a war ship that exploded shortly after 10:15 p.m. one night. Nearly 400 were injured and 320 died - all soldiers, most of them black Navy soldiers.
Thirty years before that, about 150 people died within a matter of 20 minutes in a garment factory in New York, where the majority of workers were teen immigrants who worked in crowded spaces for stretches of 12 hours at a time with very little compensation. A fire broke out.
The list of safety oversights were almost too numerous to count. There were only two fire escapes. Exit doors were locked to prevent workers from leaving during their breaks. Others were blocked by scraps of fabric. Ladders owned by the fire departments were too short to reach the upper levels. The water pressure in the hoses was too weak to make much of a dent.
The building had been deemed fireproof, yet it burned to the ground.
When we look back in American history, it's important to see how far we've come in terms of industrial working conditions. But in examining the details of what happened recently in Texas, it appears we still have so much farther to go.