First we learned the exploded Texas fertilizer plant was lacking in basic fire safety protection, then that it didn't report several hundred tons of ammonium nitrate to Homeland Security. This week's revelation: West Fertilizer Co. was a repeat target of thieves stealing anhydrous ammonia and tampering with tank valves, which led to ammonia leaks, Reuters reports. Anhydrous ammonia is commonly used to cook methamphetamine. At least 11 burglaries and five ammonia leaks were reported to police over the past 12 years. In 2002, a plant manager told cops that burglars were making off with four to five gallons of anhydrous ammonia every three days.
There is no indication that the blast that killed 14 was somehow tied to these thefts—experts say ammonium nitrate is the likely culprit, reports the Dallas Morning News, and the four tanks that held anhydrous ammonia were still standing after the blast. But it's yet another sign that safety and security were a problem at the plant, which had no security fence, alarm system, or guards. "Regardless of what triggered this specific event, the fact that there were lots of burglaries and that they were after ammonia clearly shows this plant was vulnerable to unwanted intruders or even a terrorist attack," says a chemical safety expert.