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The West Chemical and Fertilizer Company started in 1962 on the outskirts of Abbot Hill, Texas – just under five miles northeast of its current location in the town of West. In 1967, Monsanto Co. installed a 12,000-gallon storage tank for the purpose of storing anhydrous ammonia (NH3). In 1977, the company was issued a permit to store and transport anhydrous ammonia by the Texas Air Control Board (TACB), an agency that has since been absorbed into the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).
In 1984, West Chemical and Fertilizer moved operations to its current location in West. It wasn’t until eight years later, in 1992, that the company informed the TCEQ that the facility had moved. The company had been operating out of compliance with the permit that had been issued exclusively for the Abbot Hill site during this eight-year period. There was a complaint filed with the TACB in 1987 for odors. However this was filed under the entity (MB0145S) and not the permit, which is why the location change was not noted at the time.
Six years after the facility was put back in compliance, the TCEQ Waco regional office received numerous complaints of odors from the facility. The site was investigated on June 20, 1992 with no offensive odors detected. In 1997, another complaint was filed with the TCEQ for ammonia odors. The complainant “indicated that she had smelled the odors at night on approximately five separate occasions in the last month.” The site was investigated at around 9:00 a.m. with no odors detected by the investigator. Again in 1999, the site received a complaint of offensive odors. Records do not indicate that the site was ever investigated during evening or nighttime hours, when the majority of complainants claim to have experienced odors.
At some point after 1999, the air permit for NH3 storage was allowed to expire. It was not until 2006 following an investigation by the TCEQ into another odor complaint that the facility was brought into modern compliance. At that time, the TCEQ discovered the business had expanded and changed owners to Adair Grain, Inc. The company had investigation reports filed in 2006 pertaining to odor complaints and failure to obtain a permit. At that time, the facility was brought back into compliance and acquired two new air permits (79803 and 80404) for NH3. There have been no compliance irregularities filed for the site since 2006.
Banks Environmental Data was able to obtain a full copy of the TCEQ records currently available for this site at the TCEQ. Below are links to download these files for anyone who would like to review in greater detail. Most images prior to 2006 were on microfilm. These are the best copies we were able to obtain.
It seems to me that this incident will and should start a national debate on the safety of storing high volumes of chemicals, like NH3, in populated areas. My heart goes out to the people of West, Texas and their families. Please join us in making a donation to the Red Cross on behalf of West. You can text Red Cross to 90999 to make a one-time $10.00 donation or help online at redcross.org.
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