Until late Wednesday, when a massive explosion ripped through its facility in Texas, West Fertilizer Co. was a small firm that attracted little criticism from regulators but plenty of respect from its neighbors.
The company, owned by Adair Grain Inc., now finds itself at the center of one of the largest U.S. industrial disasters this decade, after the blast flattened part of the small town of West, Texas, killing as many as 15 people and injuring more than 160.
In 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency fined the company $2,300 for failing to update its risk management plan in a timely manner. It had been due in 2004. The EPA said it had poor employee training records, failed to document hazards and didn't have a written maintenance program.
The EPA said the company corrected the deficiencies and filed an updated plan in 2011. It said it now complies with EPA regulations.
The company's 2011 safety plan said the facility posed no fire or explosive risk, according to the Dallas Morning News. Even if there were a 10-minute release of ammonia, the worst-envisioned scenario, no injuries could be expected.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said the facility has been subject to routine oversight and complaint-driven investigations, but no major problems were found besides the missing permit in 2006. It had issued permits for two 12,000-gallon anhydrous ammonia storage tanks and for the material loading and storage operations of dry fertilizer materials.
The company declined to comment when reached by phone by NBC News.
"I know they were up to date on safety issues and the regulation sides," said Shane McLellan, an agent with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, a Texas A&M education-based partnership with federal, state, and county governments that works with farmers and their suppliers.