A month after the deadly ammonium nitrate explosion at the West Fertilizer facility in West, Texas, city officials brought Weaver Fertilizer before the Public Safety Committee. On May 13, 2013, then Fire Chief Antony Farmer and then Weaver Fertilizer co-owner Vernon Carlton told the committee that Winston’s only fertilizer facility was safe and that the WSFD was prepared in the event of an emergency.
Watching the video, Chief Farmer (Trey Mayo’s predecessor) comes across as far too complimentary of Weaver Fertilizer. Farmer told the Public Safety Committee that Weaver trained their employees and had plans in place should a fire occur. He dismissed their previous fire inspection violations as minor. But even minor violations in an old facility with tons of ammonium nitrate are something to worry about.
The co-owner and longtime operator of the fertilizer facility that Chief Farmer was quick to vouch for, Vernon Carlton, could not have been more dismissive of the dangers of ammonium nitrate. Carlton told the committee that he had been with Weaver Fertilizer for nearly 50 years and became co-owner of Weaver in 1993. Carlton passed away in 2017. It’s unclear who owns the company today. But someone wrote some large checks to charity recently. And someone is being sued in court.
In hindsight, it’s clear that the City of Winston-Salem should have been paying closer attention to Weaver Fertilizer over the years. They should have talked to Weaver about modernizing its facility and perhaps even considered subsidizing Weaver to replace outdated buildings with modern buildings equipped with water sprinklers.
The City failed to protect the majority Black North/Northeast Winston communities near Weaver. It’s hard to believe that the City’s complacency wasn’t in part correlated to the composition of those neighborhoods. The City would have acted with much greater urgency if Weaver Fertilizer was located in Ardmore or Buena Vista. But of course, racialized zoning standards, a legacy of Jim Crow dictated that Weaver Fertilizer was located in North/Northeast Winston in close proximity to communities of color. Weaver could never have operated in Ardmore or Buena Vista.
Public Safety Committee, May 13, 2013
“The press has done a bad job on ammonia nitrate. Because it is really a safe product. It’s a safe product. You have got to have somebody that wants to blow it up, to do something to it to make it blow up.
It’s much safer than gasoline. You could drop 1,000 pounds out of an airplane and all it would do is burst the bags…
[ammoniom nitrate is] the only thing we handle with the potential small chance that anything could ever happen is that ammonium nitrate.” -Vernon Carlton, Weaver Fertilizer
“Clearly, we need fertilizer manufacturing facilities. The only question I would have is essentially the one I just asked. Is it located in a problematic spot?” -Dan Besse, Winston-Salem City Council
WSFD Executive Summary on Weaver Fertilizer-April 21, 2013
Weaver Fertilizer President Mr. Carlton said OSHA had fined the company a few thousand dollars over the years, but couldn’t remember the exact reasons. Six years prior a Weaver worker DIED from electrocution, and the company had to pay $25,000. Seems memorable to me. https://t.co/s6bWukdaKB
— lisasorg (@lisasorg) February 18, 2022