Friday, July 4, 2014

After Horrific West, Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion, Gregg Abbott started getting donations from Koch family members with interests in Chemical Fertilizers.

Above: Nothing to see here folks, unless.  (Flickr user describes the building as a defunct fertilizer plant and the picture posted was created mostly for the clouds attribution and license at bottom).  But what if a non-descript building near your school, or workplace or home suddenly exploded sending dangerous shocks or chemicals to attack your family and friends.  People in Texas wanted to know where they were after the West plant exploded.  Attorney General Greg Abbott refused to tell them.

Excerpt Dallas Morning News report:
AUSTIN — Five months after an ammonium nitrate explosion that killed 15 people in West, Attorney General Greg Abbott received a $25,000 contribution from a first-time donor to his political campaigns — the head of Koch Industries’ fertilizer division.
The donor, Chase Koch, is the son of one of the billionaire brothers atop Koch Industries’ politically influential business empire.
Abbott, who has since been criticized for allowing Texas chemical facilities to keep secret the contents of their plants, received more than $75,000 from Koch interests after the April 2013 explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. storage and distribution facility, campaign finance records filed with the state showed.
The West accident focused public attention on the storage of potentially dangerous chemicals across Texas and regulatory gaps in prevention, data-gathering, enforcement and disclosure to prevent explosions in the future. In addition tothe 15 deaths, scores of people were injured, and homes and businesses were leveled.
The issue has re-emerged for Abbott in his run for governor. The Republican nominee recently declared that records on what chemicals the facilities stored could remain hidden, citing state laws meant to deter potential terrorist threats.
The campaign of his Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis, has charged Abbott with protecting campaign donors. On Tuesday, Abbott struggled to explain how Texans might learn of dangerous chemicals in their midst.
“You know where they are if you drive around,” Abbott told reporters at an event in Austin. “You can ask every facility whether or not they have chemicals or not. You can ask them if they do and they can tell you, ‘Well, we do have chemicals or we don’t have chemicals.’ And if they do, they tell which ones they have.”
After the West disaster, The Dallas Morning News identified 74 facilities in Texas as having at least 10,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate or ammonium-related material, including a Koch subsidiary, the Georgia-Pacific Gypsum plant in Sweetwater. The subsidiary now makes a nitrogen fertilizer, not the same product as the one that exploded in West.
 So the information could be found, but Abbott made it hard to discover -- as if homeowners and renters shouldn't have a right to know.  It's just their family's safety at stake.

The Dallas Morning News report I saw did not link to any map of dangerous chemical plants, but there is a map at Center for Effective Government of chemical plants in Texas with pictures showing schools and hospitals within a mile of the facilities.  Of course, there could be single family homes and apartments within such boundaries, too which can certainly put people at risk, unknowingly just as the West Fertilizer company did.

Charles Johnson aka @Green_Footballs posted a link on Twitter today to a Texas Department of Insurance page where you can check any zipcode in the state presumably and see if there is Ammonium Nitrate in it.  If that sounds stupid, please visit the page.  It appears to poorly explain what it does without a zipcode.  Maybe it works much better if you plug one in.
 I finally found a code that admitted to having an Ammonium nitrate storage facility. The map was unclear, showed 4 storage facilities that did not look like were in the selected zipcode, but there was contact information for a local fire department.  Hopefully you could learn more from them.

On the whole though, the site's action could be improved by allowing some energetic high school students improve it.  Then again Texas is a red state, so half-assed productions at the government level are some what to be expected.

Picture used via Creative Commons License Attribution CC by 2.0 thanks to flickr user David DeHetre who has no connection to this blog or blogger.