About Air and Water

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Chemical Plant in Waxahachie has exploded before

By Faith Chatham - DFW Regional Concerned Citizens - Jan. 27, 2015  - Updated March 5, 2015:
This is not the first time that the neighborhood where Navarro College and West Elementary School in Waxahachie has been covered with the black smoke from an inferno caused by an explosion at the Magablend Chemical Plant in Waxahachie, Texas. Here are some images from an explosion at that facility Oct. 3, 2011. A fire broke out at the Magnablend Chemical Plant near State Highway 287 and Interstate 35E at 10:35 a.m. Oct. 3, 2011. The plant exploded and school children were evacuated from a near-by school.

In 2011n Lisa Wheeler of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality stated that the plant deals with " ammonia, sulfuric, hydrochloric, nitric and phosphoric acids and mixes them for fertilizer and agricultural products." The Magnablend Plant in Waxahachie is about a 45 minute drive 51 miles north of the town of West which was devastated by a fertilizer plant explosion in 2013 which killed 15 people and injured 225.

 Here are some images from the October 3rd 2011 explosion:
In October 2011 the air blew the smoke and contaminants from the explosion in Ellis County into Dallas County. News reports of that 2011 explosion:

In 2011 NCB5 reported the inadequacies of local fire and rescue in combatting the blaze.

Waxahachie Fire Chief David Hudgins said crews that arrived shortly after the first alarm saw thick smoke and flames coming from the facility. Hudgins said they quickly realized the fire was too intense to battle from the inside, so they tried to drench the flames using unmanned water cannons placed inside the building.

When the water cannons didn't work, firefighters tried to tap into the sprinkler system to force more water through the pipes and out of the sprinkler heads. Hudgins said the sprinkler system was either damaged in the initial explosion or didn't have enough pressure.

"As you know a sprinkler system is designed for x-number of heads to go off," he said. "If more heads than that go off, you don't have adequate water coming out. That's where the fire department comes in. That's the first thing we did was go to the sprinkler system to pump into it, and it was not helping any."
 Some footage of the 2011 explosion are available from WFAA's coverage  and NBC5's coverage.

In 2011 there were no injuries. Huffington  Post reported:
Magnablend spokesman Donald Golden told WFAA-TV that 25 to 30 employees who were inside the plant's 100,000-square-foot warehouse evacuated safely when the fire broke out before 11 a.m. Golden said the company manufactures about 200 products, including some that are hazardous when ignited.
A firetruck was consumed by the blaze while firefighters were combatting the blaze.

In 2011  WFAA Channel 8 reported:

According to fire department records, the plant's sprinkler system has never been analyzed.
The plant was inspected twice by the Waxahachie fire marshal once when Magnablend moved in and again during a a 30-minute walk-through in February of this year.
Apart from some blocked exits, the fire marshal said the plant appeared to be in good condition and its housekeeping looked good.
Records also show that Magnablend's sister plant on the north end of town and a plant with even more dangerous chemicals than the one that that erupted in flames has not been officially inspected by the Waxahachie Fire Department since June 2007.
Chief Hudgins confirmed what the records indicate: That plant has no sprinkler system at all. Hudgins said it wasn't required when the plant was grandfathered after the area was annexed by the city in 1985.
Moving forward, Chief Hudgins said he will propose a new ordinance requiring a thorough inspection by a qualified fire protection engineer of every building in Waxahachie whose owner is applying for a certificate of occupancy.
He also said his department has learned from this experience and vows to review every facility that poses a public safety risk.

Chief Hudgins also told WFAA: "Sometimes when people move out of a building and somebody else moves in, there could be a mistake; you could need a bigger system, but we are not the experts to tell you that, Hudgins said."

The recent incident on Monday, January 26, 2015 is described by company representatives as a "Chemical Spill."  Witnesses reported hearing a "boom" that sounded like an explosion. The company said from inside a plastic

The Waxahachie  published a timeline on some of the repercussions from the Jan. 27th 2015 chemical spill in Waxahachie.

UPDATE 4:10 p.m.: Officials are going to shut down the I-35E northbound frontage road from Farm-to-Market 387 north to near Red Oak. Avoid the area.
UPDATE 4:36 p.m.: Texas Commission on Environmental Quality representatives are onsite, starting their investigation into the sodium chloride spill, TCEQ spokesperson Andrea Morrew said."
 UPDATE 4:36 p.m.: Texas Commission on Environmental Quality representatives are onsite, starting their investigation into the sodium chloride spill, TCEQ spokesperson Andrea Morrew said.
"Northbound frontage roads are closed. Sterrett Road on-ramp to northbound I-35E is closed," said Ryan LaFontaine, a TxDot spokeswoman said. "The frontage road and the on-ramp will remain closed until they're cleared by first responders."
At this time, those roads are closed indefinitely, he said.

UPDATE 4:10 p.m.: Officials are going to shut down the I-35E northbound frontage road from Farm-to-Market 387 north to near Red Oak. Avoid the area.
UPDATE 3:38 p.m.: Additional Ellis County Sheriff's Office deputies are headed to the east side of U.S. Highway 77 to notify residents about the spill.

"New information has come up that there are more of these same totes in there that were delivered from the same company," said Randall Potter, Waxahachie assistant fire chief. "We don’t know if those were contaminated. They are not sure what caused the malfunction. It is mostly likely that something was accidently mixed in with the chemical, like the tanks they put the stuff in were not washed thoroughly or something. Something caused it to off gas. There were 12 of these things delivered at the same time. So we are not sure if the rest of them are going to do it until the Hazmat company comes and makes sure we are all good we are going to expand the zone."  (Corsicana Daily Sun)

Some of the same problems which contributed to the devastation of West, Texas impact other small counties in Texas. A year after the explosion in West, the Industrial  Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso of the National Chemical Safety Board stated when the Board issued it's report a year after the explosion at West, that the fertilizer plant explosion at West "should never have occurred," and was "preventable".

CNN reported that U.S. Chemical Safety Board Agency report blamed the company that owned the fertilizer plant, government regulators and other authorities for the incident.
"It resulted from the failure of a company to take the necessary steps to avert a preventable fire and explosion and from the inability of federal, state and local regulatory agencies to identify a serious hazard and correct it," Moure-Eraso said.
McLennan County, for example, didn't have an emergency response plan in place, and "the community clearly was not aware of the potential hazard at West Fertilizer," the report said.
A lack of fire codes was repeatedly cited in the report, with investigators noting Texas didn't have a fire code and small counties are prohibited from having them. But, the chairman said, local fire departments need fire codes to "hold industrial operators accountable for safe storage and handling of chemicals." The Report cited McLennan County for "not having an emergency response plan in place when and the community was not aware of the potential hazards at West Fertilizer."

A problem that impacts small counties in Texas is that Texas doesn't have a fire code and small counties under 250,000 population which are not adjacent to counties of 250,000 population are prohibited by Texas State Law from enacting a County Fire Code. A lack of fire codes was repeatedly cited in the West accident report, with investigators noting Texas didn't have a fire code and small counties are prohibited from having them. The chairman said," local fire departments need fire codes" to "hold industrial operators accountable for safe storage and handling of chemicals."

Fact Checking the statement: I placed a call to Austin and was connected with the The Texas Fire Board under the Texas Insurance Commission. They affirmed that Texas does not have a state fire code. Counties of under 250,000 which are not adjacent to counties of at least 250,000 are prohibited by Texas state law from enacting a fire code.

Ellis County was able to Enact A Fire Code:

Following the Oct. 3, 2011 explosion at the March  Chemical Plant in Waxahachie, Ellis County enacted a Fire Code   Effective Jan. 1, 2013, Ellis County requires commercial buildings to meet the requirements of the newly enacted Fire Code.  Adjacent to two counties in excess of 250,000 population Ellis County was able to adopt a Fire Code. Navarro County,which is under 250,000 population and not adjacent to a county of that size, if prohibited by Texas State Law from enacting a Fire Code.  Expansion of the Industrial Park in Navarro County could place residents at greater risk because of overreaching state laws which prohibit local authorities from taking prudent action and enacting and enforcing a reasonable Fire Code. 

Local officials learned from the events in West and at the Magnablend Plant. In 2012 they began the process to adopt a Fire Code and to update their Preparedness Plan. By January 1, 2013 they had removed all the exemptions for plants which were grandfathered and made all of them comply with the new County Fire Code. Even though Ellis has less than 250,000 population, they were able to enact the Fire Code because they are adjacent to both Dallas and Tarrant counties and each of those counties exceed 250,000 in population. Having the authority to inspect and enforce the new Fire Code helped local responders address accidents at the Magnablend Plant in 2015. Knowledge of what chemicals they were facing and the floorplan of the facility enabled responders to contain the incident faster with less property loss and greater safety to the responders and employees and citizens in the vicinity.

Nearby counties such as McLennan (where West is located) and Navarro (which has a fertilizer plant) are not as fortunate as Ellis. For some reason State Legislators decided that most of the counties in Texas should not have the same opportunity as Ellis to assess the dangers that exist in their communities and to enact Fire Codes should they decide there is sufficient need., From Austin, those who run for office citing too much government and denouncing governmental "overreaching" chose to upsup local authority and micromanage from afar, despite evidence that enforcement of Fire Regulations prevents or minimizes loss of property and harm to human beings.

During the 2015 Legislative Session in Austin three identical bills have been filed, all seeking to remove the prohibition from the Local Government Code. They are:
HB924: http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=84R&Bill=HB924

SB327: http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=84R&Bill=SB00327
Rep. Ryan Guillen (D) (956 716-4838) and Representative Kenneth Sheets ( R) (214 370-8305) and Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (956-972-1842) have filed (respectively) HB924, HB684 and SB327. Hopefully at least one of them will get out of committee and be enacted into law.  

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