Death in Beirut


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This is 4K video. Open it up to full screen. It repeats twice…each time slower motion.

Annually, the world produces and stores enormous amounts of ammonium nitrate—more than 20 million tons in 2017. But for the compound to figure in an explosion of this magnitude, chemists and explosives experts say a lot has to go wrong.

The most interesting thing to me – technically – is noting the shock wave travels through the earth, through solids…faster than it does through the air. You can see near(er) objects judder frame-by-frame in the last slo-mo before the airborne blast arrives in the vicinity of the videographer.

No surprise there. Just didn’t think of it till I saw it.

Before Texas plant exploded: What did regulators know? What did regulators do?

Despite being located within a short walk of a nursing home, school and residential buildings, West Fertilizer Co in central Texas had no blast walls and had filed no contingency plan to the Environmental Protection Agency for a major explosion or fire at the site.

It remains unclear what safety measures, if any, were required of the company or whether West Fertilizer failed to comply. But on Wednesday night, the company’s fertilizer complex in West, Texas – population, 2,600 – exploded with such force that 60 to 80 homes were flattened, the school and nursing home took heavy damage and at least 14 people were killed, authorities said.

In a 2011 filing with the EPA, the operators of West Fertilizer told regulators that a typical emergency scenario at the facility that holds anhydrous ammonia could result in a 10-minute release of the substance in gas form. That chemical, used as a fertilizer, is toxic to inhale but is not considered highly flammable or explosive, and the safety plan did not envisage any blast scenario.

In a separate filing earlier this year to the Texas Department of State Health Services, West Fertilizer disclosed that, as of the end of 2012, the company was also storing more volatile chemical compounds at the same address, including 270 tons of ammonium nitrate…

In a filing with the EPA in 2011, West Fertilizer outlined safety measures to deal with an incident involving only the less flammable liquid gas, anhydrous ammonia. The filing, obtained by the left-leaning Center for Effective Government, did not envisage an emergency scenario that would cause a fire or explosion.

West Fertilizer is subject to EPA regulation because the quantity of ammonia it stores on site is more than 10,000 pounds.

In December 2006, it received a 10-year permit from Texas regulators that allowed for the operation of two 12,000-gallon storage tanks for anhydrous ammonia. The permit required West Fertilizer to carry out daily visual, auditory and olfactory inspections. It was not clear whether the firm required, or obtained, additional permits for operations involving more volatile compounds…

Thousands of sites across rural America store potentially explosive materials and blend fertilizer for farmers, similar to West Fertilizer. In EPA reports, about 10,000 facilities say they store anhydrous ammonia.

Keep on rocking in the Free World.

The answer to the headline questions are stuck into “Free World” ideology. Profit-centered politicians whose priorities include neither public safety nor forward-looking regulation of any industry.

Once again, an uninformed public is left with people in charge who are perfectly willing to wait for death and destruction to motivate politics. And only begrudgingly.