More West victims file suits as cause of explosion is released - KYTX CBS 19 Tyler Longview News Weather Sports

More West victims file suits as cause of explosion is released

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(KYTX) - We now know which substance ignited, causing the fertilizer plant explosion in West.

The Texas State Fire Marshal's Office says a large amount of ammonium nitrate is what exploded.

Ammonium nitrate is used in many fertilizers, and experts say it can be highly explosive at high temperatures; however, some U.S. senators are pointing out, it may not have been considered a risk factor to some federal agencies.

In 2011, the West Fertilizer Co. plant turned in this risk management report to the Environmental Protection Agency. The report does list 54,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia  but says it posed no fire risk. Plus, the report never mentioned ammonium nitrate, which is not on the EPA's mandatory reporting list.

A Tyler attorney representing several West residents, says lax regulations like this are the basis of his case.

Attorney Randy Roberts with Roberts and Roberts firm in Tyler, was the first to file a claim against the West fertilizer plant that exploded last month, killing at least 15 and injuring 200.

"Since that time we've received several more clients," Roberts said.

Now, he represents four people from West, all with a similar story.

"The most recent client to hire me was actually in his apartment when the explosion occurred. He was on the couch and blown against the wall and like most of the other folks I represent, lost everything," Roberts said as he showed pictures of a condo in pieces.

As state and federal agencies continue to uncover how the explosion happened, Roberts is looking into who could have prevented it.

"One of the questions that is surfacing right now is, What was all this ammonium nitrate doing at the plant? Was it being used by the plant in its operations or was it being stored there by perhaps other larger corporations who were taking advantage of the lax oversight at that plant?" Roberts said.

If so, Roberts says those larger corporations may be partially responsible.

Roberts also notes the West fertilizer plant only has $1 million in liability insurance.

"I'm not surprised by that because most hazardous business operations in Texas are not required to carry any type of insurance," he said.

Roberts expects that $1 million to be divided equally between everyone filing claims. At least six total lawsuits have been filed against Adair Grain Inc.

"That's obviously not going to be adequate," he says, "and when they realize that, I believe they will file bankruptcy."

The plant's owner Adair Grain Inc. has been very quiet during the investigation and has only released one statement since the explosion. In that statement, Donald Adair, owner of Adair Grain says, "I want to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt sympathy for those affected. We pledge to do everything we can to understand what happened to ensure nothing like this ever happens again in any community."

That spot where the ammonium nitrate was stored is now a 90-foot-wide crater. Though we know what type of gas exploded, we don't know what caused the fire that broke out just before the explosion.

The investigation into that is expected to take one to two extra weeks to complete, with dozens of investigators combing through plant wreckage and the surrounding neighborhoods.

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