“We are not a compliance office. It’s unenforceable. We have no means to enforce that here in the city or county. We certainly ask that business and industry does that.”
-August Vernon, Emergency Management Director, reminds us that in the third world country of the United States of America, a corporation can store 600 tons of ammonium nitrate with little regulatory oversight. (Video clip below)
The NFPA code also advises that plants should operate at least 2,275 feet —nearly a half mile — from “inhabited buildings.” According to the Forsyth County tax parcel viewer, more than 100 homes are within that distance from the plant. Most of the residents in those census blocks are persons of color and/or low-income, according to the NC Department of Environmental Quality’s Community Mapping System.
The fire that threatened to turn 4440 North Cherry into another West, Texas scale disaster has been extinguished. But the runoff from the historic fire remains in our streams. And the hardships faced by residents forced to flee their homes won’t soon be forgotten.
In the coming weeks and months, Weaver will remove the rubble from its facility at 4440 North Cherry Street. Their grandfathered mid-20th Century accident waiting to happen fertilizer facility is no more. In all likelihood, Weaver will submit a new site plan to the Planning Board and ultimately City Council for approval as soon as it can. They’ll attempt to rebuild.
The City Council must use every tool at its disposal to ensure that Weaver is not permitted to rebuild its fertilizer plant. Our community cannot allow a bad corporate actor such as Weaver Fertilizer to operate in close proximity to residential communities of color. It’s time that they left town.
Weaver Fertilizer is bad news. When Weaver first began operating its fertilizer plant on North Cherry in the late 1930s, it was in rural Forsyth County, just outside of city limits. Over time the city grew around them. Weaver should have operated with the safety of the community around it in mind. It didn’t. Weaver exploited lax regulations. They did the bare minimum and in the end, it cost them their Winston-Salem facility.
Weaver failed to upgrade their aging facility to modern standards. Sprinklers could have suppressed the Weaver fire at its origin, preventing the massive days-long blaze that terrorized nearby residents and triggered Wake Forest University.
Lisa Sorg of NC Policy Watch and the Winston-Salem Journal both reported that Weaver failed to file Tier 2 reports, required by law.
In Forsyth County, there are over 290 facilities that are required to file Tier 2 reports due to the presence of hazardous materials, according to August Vernon, Emergency Management Director. A Tier 2 report tells first responders what materials are present, where they are at, and in what quantities.
Weaver Fertilizer’s last report for their Winston-Salem plant was filed in 2019. Weaver’s failure to file a recent Tier 2 report, despite having enough ammonium nitrate on site to incinerate several Alfred P. Murrah Federal Buildings, is astounding and unacceptable. We are lucky that no one died during the Weaver Fire. After what Weaver Fertilizer put the city through, they have lost their Winston-Salem privileges. It’s time for them to find a new fertilizer production site.
City Officials Confirm-Weaver Had Filed An Updated Tier 2 Report:
Further reading: Environmental hazards loom large as emergency crews work to contain massive Winston-Salem fire, Lisa Sorg 2/2/2022
Drone video from the Weaver Fertilizer Plant fire Friday, February 4, 2022. https://t.co/vtl1WF0PO1
— City of Winston-Salem, NC (@CityofWS) February 4, 2022
— Winston-Salem FD (@cityofwsfire) February 1, 2022
The 1 mile evacuation order will be reduced to 660ft. from Winston Weaver Fertilizing Plant, located at 4440 N. Cherry St., effective 8:00pm tonight, Thursday, February 03, 2022. #WSFire .107 pic.twitter.com/Rm6BopkjJL
— Winston-Salem FD (@cityofwsfire) February 3, 2022
“It’s certainly a very dangerous situation with the ammonium nitrate that is there. We recall the explosion that happened at a similar facility down in Texas several years ago. And this has about, if I understand it, maybe ten times as much ammonium nitrate on site. So it’s dangerous. That is the reason we are asking citizens that if you are within a one-mile radius of the plant to please go spend the night with friends or relatives or get a hotel room or something of that nature. But we encourage you to evacuate that area.”
-Allen Joines, Fox 8 News. 1/31/2020