West, Texas sues owner of exploded fertilizer plant

West, Texas sues owner of exploded fertilizer plant
The city of West, Texas, has filed a lawsuit against the owner of the fertilizer plant that exploded in April, as well as the chemical company that supplied two 100-ton shipments of ammonium nitrate in the weeks before the deadly blast.

The city has filed a suit against Adair Grain Inc. and ammonium nitrate supplier CF Industries, claiming that the chemical shipments were improperly stored and caused the explosion that killed 15 people and destroyed more than 150 homes. A high school, middle school, apartment complex and a nursing home were also destroyed in the April 17 blast.

The lawsuit claims that 30 tons from the first 100-ton shipment of ammonium nitrate had not yet been sold and were being dangerously stored in the plant at the time of the explosion. The city has accused the supplier of failing to properly inspect the fertilizer mixing facility to determine whether hazard mitigation was necessary or to provide recommendations for safe storage.  Even though the Illinois-based CF industries knew that the plant was located within a community of homes, parks, and schools, it chose to blindly sell hundreds of tons of the hazardous material to the facility, the suit states.

“The explosion happened when a substantial portion of the thirty tons of ammonium nitrate stockpiled in the fertilizer mixing building was heated to the point of detonation,” the complaint states. “This explosion occurred at approximately 7:50 p.m., some twenty minutes after a fire had been detected in the same building at the fertilizer facility.”

The lawsuit also accused CF Industries of providing outdated safety information to West Fertilizer, and failing to provide a material safety data sheet for either of the two shipments.

After investigating the blast for a month, Texas fire marshals said they could not determine a cause. Investigators have launched a criminal probe, but no one has yet been charged.

The city of West is seeking $17 million in damages for negligence and product liability. The city says it needs the money to fix its streets, water and sewer lines that were destroyed by the explosion. The deadly blast resulted in an estimated $57 million in damages, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency has refused to provide funds to help rebuild the devastated town.

But Scott Deatherage, a Dallas attorney specializing in environmental law, told CBS News that this would most likely be a difficult case for the city to win, since the chemical in question is used extensively throughout the US. Ammonium nitrate can be found in products ranging from fertilizer to instant cold packs used as first aid on injuries.

“Consider ammonium nitrate is a very common material sold all over the country, all over Texas, and it’s used everyday,” he said. “So to argue that particular product is somewhat defective is extremely difficult. It’d be like saying gasoline is defective because it exploded somewhere.”

CF Industries provided a statement to WPTV, claiming that there is “no basis for this suit”, but that it was “sympathetic to those whose lives were affected by this unfortunate incident.”

“The CF Industries’ companies will seek dismissal of this lawsuit and otherwise defend the company vigorously in court,” it said in a statement to CBS.