Tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer at a central Texas plant exploded last April with the force of a small earthquake. The blast came just two days after the Boston Marathon and, in the national media, was overshadowed by events in the Northeast. While not the result of a terrorist attack, the explosion in West, Texas, was far larger and deadlier, and raised more significant public safety issues. In a series of investigative reports over eight months, The Dallas Morning News revealed that ammonium nitrate remains virtually unregulated by federal and state governments, despite its well-known explosive potential. (Timothy McVeigh used it in 1995 to blow up an Oklahoma City federal building.) Efforts to strengthen oversight have been blocked by industry lobbyists and government gridlock, The News found, even as the Pentagon sought bans on ammonium nitrate in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In pro-business, anti-regulation Texas, the federal government's lax oversight meant no oversight at all. West Fertilizer Co. - scene of the disaster - violated almost every safety best practice. No state agency was charged with preventing an ammonium nitrate blast. There was no public registry of companies that handled the compound, even though many facilities are near homes and schools. Texas prohibits most counties from having fire codes and does not require facilities like West to obtain liability insurance. Gov. Rick Perry and other state politicians, who created this wide-open environment, washed their hands of the problem. They said West was a tragic accident that no amount of regulation could have prevented. The News' findings, however, proved otherwise.
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