Lost in the coverage of the tragedy in Boston earlier this month was the explosion of a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, that killed 14 people and injured 160. The U.S. Geological Survey registered the explosion as powerful as a 2.1-magnitude earthquake, and early estimates put the cost of the damage at more than $100 million. According to The New York Times, “the explosion was so powerful that it leveled homes and left a crater 93 feet wide and 10 feet deep.”
Although the exact cause of the explosion is still unknown, reports show that the plant lacked adequate regulations and failed to report its large quantity of the potentially explosive chemical, ammonium nitrate.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requires plants with over 400 pounds of ammonium nitrate to file reports so it can increase security. In the case of West Fertilizer, it held 270 tons of ammonium nitrate without reporting to DHS, which meant that the plant had no sprinklers, fire alarms or blast walls, all of which could have prevented the fire that broke out at the plant from becoming an explosion.
On Monday, Mike Elk, labor reporter for In These Times Magazine, joined the NOW with Alex Wagner panel to discuss the explosion in West and what it can teach us about protecting America’s workers.
“The possibility that an employer might go to jail for creating a safety condition that leads to the death of a worker is very slim,” Elk said, “since 1970, there have been 360,000 workers who have died on the job but only 84 criminal prosecutions.”