1,350.  That’s how many more times the legally-allowable amount of ammonium nitrate was stored in the West Fertilizer Co. plant before it exploded.  From Reuters:

“Fertilizer plants and depots must report to the DHS when they hold 400 lb (180 kg) or more of the substance. Filings this year with the Texas Department of State Health Services, which weren’t shared with DHS, show the plant had 270 tons of it on hand last year.”

Do you know why the Department of Homeland Security requires such reporting?  Because ammonium nitrate, in addition to being fertilizer, is highly explosive.  You might remember it from this guy’s handiwork.

Yet this fine, upstanding corporate citizen in West, Texas didn’t see the need to comply with a variety of federal and state regulations.  They figured that was just Big Government’s way of holding down small business.  But they’re real sorry now that fourteen people are dead, 200 are injured and there’s a 100-foot crater where their business used to be. In fact, the owner, Donald Adair, is “devastated.”

Here are some other numbers:  4,609 and 17.  The first is the number of Americans who died in workplace accidents in 2011 alone.  That same year, 17 died from acts of terrorism.  Yet I’ll bet you’re about 1,350 times more concerned about terrorists than you are about the safety of your workplace, yes?

We had the rare opportunity the week of April 15, 2013 to get a good look at the two side-by-side.  Three people died – tragically – in Boston at the hands of two terrorists.  And that dominated the news.  Sure, there were headlines about the explosion in Texas, but that wasn’t the story.  After all, there were scary foreigners responsible for Boston!  In Texas the fault lies with a good American job creator.  Who, by placing profits over human lives, literally blew a hole in the community where he has spent his whole life.

One of the terrorists is dead, one in prison awaiting legal proceedings.  Mr. Adair?  He’s issuing statements to the press.  The Governor of Texas has his back, and is disgusted that anyone has the nerve to question how serious Texas – or any state – is about putting safety ahead of corporate profit.  In hopes that Governor Perry will be as disappointed with Everblog as he is with the Sacramento Bee, please see the image below.

Plant Explosion Cartoon

In fairness to Mr. Adair and Governor Perry, this sort of thing isn’t endemic only to Texas.  Again, thousands of Americans die in workplace accidents every year.

Still, why is Mr. Adair walking free, probably enjoying breakfast with his family as this post is published?  No one questions that the negligence and active disregard of safety regulations by his company have forever changed the town of West, Texas and hundreds – perhaps thousands – of lives.

Sure, they’ll pay a fine.  Maybe even a big one.  The surviving Boston bomber?  We all know his days are numbered.

If this were an isolated incident it might be understandable as a simple mistake.  It was not an isolated incident.  It happens over and over (normally on an infinitely smaller scale) and we chalk it up to the price of free enterprise, of employment.

More than a hundred years ago, in 1911, 146 Americans died in New York City when the Triangle Shirtwaist Company went up in flames.  That was enough to make New Yorkers stand up and take notice.

Is 146 the magic number?  Is that how many people need to die in one “accident” for America to decide it might be time to re-prioritize human life over profit again?

I have small children.  They cause a fair bit of household mayhem by their very existence.  Not a day goes by that, following a dropped plate of food, a tripped sister, a spilled glass of milk, I don’t explain that it doesn’t matter if it was an accident – if they were misbehaving and that misbehavior resulted in said mayhem, it’s their fault anyway.

That’s true of Mr. Adair’s West Fertilizer Company as well. No, he didn’t mean to kill all those people.  But he did  mean to make a few extra bucks by disregarding the law.  BP didn’t mean to blow a hole in the floor of the Gulf of Mexico that they still can’t figure out how to close.  But they did mean to maximize profits by playing fast and loose with the most basic requirements.

There is an endless supply of examples.  Isn’t it time we expect “corporate citizens” to behave by the same rules of decency we expect of our children?


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