Federal investigators probe how 30 TONS of explosive ammonium nitrate vanished
Federal investigators have joined the probe into a missing 30-ton shipment of ammonium nitrate that can be used to build high-powered explosives like that one used in the Oklahoma City bombing.
Roughly 60,000 pounds of the chemical, which was in pellet form, vanished during a two-week journey from Cheyenne, Wyoming, to Saltdale, California.
The shipment left a manufacturing site of Dyno Nobel, an explosives manufacturer, on April 12 and the report about the missing ammonium nitrate was made on May 10.
Preliminary inquiries suggest a leak in the rail car carrying the chemical caused it to spill during the journey. Union Pacific, the operator which carried the delivery, told DailyMail.com it does not believe there was any ‘criminal or malicious activity involved’.
But neither the railroad or Dyno Nobel – whose explosive products are used in mining – have confirmed whether the chemical has been located or what caused it to vanish.
The shipment of ammonium nitrate vanished during a two-week journey from the Dyno Nobel plant in Cheyenne, Wyoming, to Saltdale, California. A map indicates the routes it could have taken along Union Pacific’s rail network
The shipment left a manufacturing site of Dyno Nobel (pictured), an explosives manufacturer, on April 12 and the report about the missing ammonium nitrate was made on May 10
Ammonium nitrate was a key component in the bomb used by domestic terrorists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols to carry out the Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people
Ammonium nitrate was a key component in the bomb used by domestic terrorists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols to carry out the Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people.
An estimated 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of the chemical was used in the attack, on April 19, 1995, meaning the amount which has vanished could be used to create about 30 equivalent explosives. The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was destroyed in the blast.
In another incident in 2013, 15 people died and more than 260 were injured when ammonium nitrate exploded at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas.
More than 200 people died when around 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded at the Port of Beirut in Lebanon. The colossal blast also injured 7,000 people and caused damage valued at $15 billion.
Ammonium nitrate fertilizer costs around $600 per ton, so the missing shipment would have been worth something in the region of $18,000.
A map of Union Pacific’s network indicates the shipment could have traveled along tracks in either Denver and Utah, or across Wyoming and into Utah, before then passing through Nevada and into California.
Dyno Nobel was approached for comment. The company said previously that it’s believed the ammonium nitrate leaked from the car during the journey.
Timothy McVeigh (left) and Terry Nichols (right) used ammonium nitrate in the explosives used in the Oklahoma City bombing. Officials investigating the missing shipment said they don’t suspect ‘any criminal or malicious activity involved’
More than 200 people died when around 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded at the Port of Beirut in Lebanon
The colossal blast in Lebanon also injured 7,000 people and caused damage valued at $15 billion
‘The railcar was sealed when it left the Cheyenne facility, and the seals were still intact when it arrived in Saltdale. The initial assessment is that a leak through the bottom gate on the railcar may have developed in transit,’ a spokesman said.
A Union Pacific spokeswoman told DailyMail.com: ‘Our investigation is still ongoing at this time. Union Pacific cannot comment on the details or status of an active investigation, other than to say that at this point in the investigation, we do not believe there is any criminal or malicious activity involved.’
Stan Blake, a former Wyoming state lawmaker and retired train conductor, told Cowboy State Daily it wouldn’t be hard to drain one of the hopper cars of its load of the pellets.
The cars have two or three sections, Blake said, and there’s a gate at the bottom of them. ‘You can use up a big bar and open that gate and it’ll pour out,’ he said.
He also suggested that its possible the pellets never got on the train in the first place, since with a mobile conveyor belt, the chemical can be carried from the open gate into a truck.
Union Pacific, which operated the train carrying the explosive chemicals, said if the pellets had leaked from the train it would be harmless. Pictured is a Union Pacific train hauling bulk grain through Kansas
A map shows the origin of the shipment and the point in Saltdale, California, where workers realized the ammonium nitrate was missing
He said sometimes cars would be registered as carrying loads, but they’d be empty, and vice versa.
He said sometimes when cars were joined, they could slam together and some would spill out. He told the outlet he’s known people to collect it in plastic bags and put it on their lawn.
‘It’s great fertilizer,’ he said.
The Federal Railroad Authority said both Dyno Nobel and Union Pacific could face federal sanctions if they are found to have committed any violations of rules which caused the chemical to disappear.
A spokesman added: ‘As Union Pacific and Dyno Nobel investigate this incident, they should engage all necessary parties, including law enforcement, to ensure any potential causes and impacts are addressed swiftly and thoroughly.
‘UP’s initial findings suggest this was likely a leak caused by a component of the rail car. Rail shippers and railroads are responsible for ensuring rail cars are properly secured.’