West, TX: The Latest

[Content Note: Injury; death.]

The explosion of a fertilizer plant in West, TX, last week took 14 lives, most of whom were first responders who were battling a fire before the explosion. Some EMTs are still missing. The search and rescue in the town, where hundreds were injured, continues.

President Obama has pledged federal assistance, and lots of donations are rolling in to help the town. Here is a good round-up of ways to help, and please feel welcome and encouraged to leave additional suggestions in comments.

The precise cause of the explosion is still unknown, and the investigation is only in its most preliminary stages. Foul play is not suspected, but it has not been ruled out yet, either.

As the questions begin about how this terrible thing could have happened, some possible answers are starting to emerge: The plant had been storing "1,350 times the amount of ammonium nitrate that would normally trigger safety oversight by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Yet a person familiar with DHS operations said the company that owns the plant, West Fertilizer, did not tell the agency about the potentially explosive fertilizer as it is required to do, leaving one of the principal regulators of ammonium nitrate—which can also be used in bomb making—unaware of any danger there."

The last time the plant had an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection was 1985 (!), and because OSHA and the Chemical Safety Board are so wildly underfunded and understaffed, companies are tasked with self-reporting. Whoops.

Which of course is to say nothing of the zoning laws that allowed a fertilizer plant to exist in such close proximity to residences and schools. Many residents say they saw it coming, and, naturally, because we live in a garbage culture full of victim-blaming and tasking individuals with solutions for systemic problems, there is already a lot of "why didn't they move?" where "this plant was irresponsible and deregulation is a fucking nightmare" should be.

Anyway. That's the latest. My sincerest condolences to the people of West, Texas.

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