Thieves targeted Texas fertilizer plant
WEST, Texas — Burglars occasionally sneaked into and around a Texas fertilizer plant in the years before a huge deadly explosion — sometimes looking for a chemical fertilizer stored at the plant that can be used to make methamphetamine, according to local sheriff’s records.
Sheriff’s deputies were called more than 10 times to West Fertilizer in the 11 years before an April 17 blast that killed 14 people, injured 200 and leveled part of the tiny town of West, according to McLennan County sheriff’s office files released through an open-records request. Multiple calls involved suspicion that anhydrous ammonia was being stolen.
The records portray a plant with no outer fence that was a sporadic target of intruders. Law enforcement was occasionally called because someone had noticed the smell of gas outside or signs of an intruder.
Anhydrous ammonia is a fertilizer that is a frequent target of burglars trying to manufacture methamphetamine. In the right conditions it can be flammable or explosive, though that is nearly impossible outdoors. However, a leak of the gas could form a potentially fatal toxic chemical cloud.
The plant also had an unspecified amount of ammonium nitrate, a chemical that has been used in explosives, like in the Oklahoma City bombing.