Report: 60K Tons of Ammonium Nitrate Lost in Shipping as Explosive Chemical

Reports have emerged that around 60,000 tons of ammonium nitrate, the main ingredient in Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, disappeared from a rail car last month as it was being shipped through the western US. Explosives company Dyno Nobel reported the vanishing chemical to the federal National Response Center on May 10. The chemical, which can also be used as a fertilizer, was put on a rail car that departed Cheyenne, Wyo., on April 12, headed for California. The rail car was found empty two weeks later during a stop in the Mojave Desert. Four separate investigations have since been launched.

Dyno Nobel was shipping the ammonium nitrate in pellet form and believes it may have begun falling out of the rail car at some point during the trip. “The railcar was sealed when it left the Cheyenne facility, and the seals were still intact when it arrived in Saltdale [Calif.]. The initial assessment is that a leak through the bottom gate on the railcar may have developed in transit,” a Dyno Nobel spokesperson told KQED.

Ammonium nitrate is a highly explosive chemical that has been used in numerous terrorist attacks and industrial accidents. It was also a key component in the explosion that destroyed Beirut’s port last August, killing more than 200 people. The incident has prompted calls for tighter regulation of the chemical worldwide.

The US has been particularly vulnerable to ammonium nitrate-related attacks. In addition to the Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people, the chemical was used in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing that killed three people and injured more than 260 others. The US Department of Homeland Security has identified ammonium nitrate as one of the most significant potential sources of explosive material for terrorists.

The theft of such a large quantity of ammonium nitrate is therefore a major concern. The FBI has said it is investigating the incident, along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the US Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration. The agencies are said to be examining surveillance footage from the rail car’s journey and interviewing personnel involved in the shipment.

The incident highlights the need for greater security measures around the transportation of hazardous materials. The US has already implemented a range of regulations aimed at preventing terrorist attacks involving hazardous materials, including background checks for employees involved in the shipping and handling of such materials, and requirements for companies to report any suspicious activity or missing materials to the relevant authorities.

However, there are concerns that these regulations may not be sufficient to prevent a determined attacker from obtaining and using hazardous materials. The theft of 60,000 tons of ammonium nitrate is a stark reminder of the need for continued vigilance and investment in security measures to protect against such threats.

The incident also raises questions about the regulation of hazardous materials more broadly. While ammonium nitrate is widely used as a fertilizer, it is also a highly explosive chemical that can cause significant damage if not handled properly. The Beirut explosion last year highlighted the dangers of storing large quantities of ammonium nitrate in urban areas, and prompted calls for tighter regulation of the chemical worldwide.

In response to the incident, some experts have called for greater oversight of the transportation of hazardous materials, including more frequent inspections of shipments and stricter requirements for companies to report missing or stolen materials. Others have suggested that alternative chemicals should be used in place of ammonium nitrate for certain applications, such as fertilizers.

Whatever the solution, it is clear that the theft of 60,000 tons of ammonium nitrate is a serious security concern that requires urgent attention. With terrorist groups continuing to seek out new ways to obtain and use hazardous materials, it is essential that governments and industry work together to ensure that such materials are transported and stored safely and securely.