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West Fertilizer Co. had spotty regulatory history, records show

Disasters and AccidentsFertilizerChemical IndustryInsuranceEnvironmental PoliticsEnvironmental IssuesU.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The West, Texas, fertilizer plant destroyed by a massive explosion has paid nearly $8,000 to at least two regulatory agencies for safety and transportation violations, records show.

West Fertilizer Co. paid $5,250 last year to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration over violations discovered in 2011, according to records reviewed by the Los Angeles Times.

A federal inspector found three violations at the fertilizer facility that included transporting anhydrous ammonia without a security plan and carrying it in tanks that were improperly labeled, records show.

PHOTOS: Fertilizer plant explodes in West, Texas

The agency fined the company $10,100 – reducing the fine by $1,400 for corrective actions taken by the fertilizer facility’s manager. In the end, the company paid the $5,250 after taking further corrective actions.

“PHMSA finds that the foregoing corrective actions have corrected the violations outlined in the notice and no further corrective actions are required,” records show.  

The plant, described in regulatory filings as a storage facility, exploded Wednesday, flattening nearby homes and businesses. The blast left as many as 40 people dead and dozens wounded in the small town of West, 20 miles north of Waco.

Massive rescue efforts were underway Thursday as officials combed through debris for survivors and bodies.

In 2006, the facility was fined $2,300 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for not having a risk management program in place, records show. 

The company settled with the environmental agency in August 2006 without admitting liability, records show.

In its 2011 risk management plan filed with the environmental agency, company officials said they had steps in place to prevent the accidental release of anhydrous ammonia.

The facility sold fertilizers directly to farmers, according to regulatory filings retrieved through a website run by the Center for Effective Government.

The safety plan, filed in June 2011, said the worst-case scenario would be "the release of the total contents of a storage tank released as a gas over 10 minutes."

Filed by the company's general manager, the risk management plan indicated that there hadn't been an accident at the warehouse facility in the last five years.

The filing also listed an alternative release scenario "based on the most likely potential incident," which it described as "a release from a break in a transfer hose," company officials wrote.

To prevent that, the facility had pressure relief valves in place.

"Safety improvement is an ongoing process at the facility," officials wrote.

The fertilizer storage and retail facility was also investigated in 2006 by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for a "very bad" smell, state records show.

That complaint was filed in June 2006, and it is unclear from documents what regulatory actions were taken.

Officials wrote in the complaint that the "ammonia smell [was] very bad last night from fertilizer plant, [and] lingered until after they went to bed."

The investigation was resolved and the company appeared to be cited for "failure to obtain a permit," but records don't indicate whether the plant's owners faced a fine.

West Fertilizer Co. was founded in 1958, according to records obtained from Dun & Bradstreet, a business information firm.

The company, owned by Donald R. Adair, 83, listed eight employees at the plant, which D&B described as a warehouse for nitrogenous fertilizers.

The firm reported annual sales of $4 million in 2012.

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ricardo.lopez@latimes.com

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