Report: Regulators unaware of stockpile at Texas blast site

Operators of the Texas fertilizer plant that exploded this week, killing at least 14 people, failed to tell federal regulators that the company was storing large amounts of volatile ammonium nitrate, according to reports emerging in the accident’s aftermath.

At least one lawmaker suggested that West Fertilizer was “willfully of the grid” to avoid scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other regulators, Reuters reports.

At the same time, industry groups are raising concerns that the explosion would trigger a regulatory overreaction.

Under the law, fertilizer plants are required to report to DHS when they store 400 pounds of ammonium nitrate, a chemical sometimes used to make bombs. West Fertilizer had roughly 270 tons of the substance on hand as recently as last year, according to the Reuters report, which cites the firm’s state filings, which were not shared with the federal government.

“It seems this manufacturer was willfully off the grid," Rep. Bennie Thompson, (D-Miss.), ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, told the news service.

The company did not comment.

At least 200 people were injured by the blast that obliterated parts of West, Texas, home to just a few thousand people. As emergency workers sift through the rubble, the leading fertilizer industry trade group is raising concerns about potential regulatory fallout.

"There's a concern that someone may react quickly and perhaps try to change things or impose new regulation on top of existing regulation that's already effective," Kathy Mathers, vice president of public affairs at The Fertilizer Institute told The Hill this week.

The group represents about 90 percent of the sector, but Mathers noted that West Fertilizer is not a member. 

"There's definitely a very rigorous regulatory structure in place right now. My sense is that the industry is working very hard to comply with existing regulations," she said.