About 60,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate has gone missing from a train rail car traveling from Wyoming to California last month and at least four investigations are taking place to figure out where it all went wrong. This is the type of chemical that can be used as fertilizer, but also in explosives which is why many people are very worried.
On May 10, the company Dyno Nobel reported to the federal National Response Center (NRC) about an incident. This report was also documented in an NRC database of California incidents managed by the state Office of Emergency Services the previous Wednesday.
According to a statement by Dyno Nobel, their initial assessment suggests that a leak may have occurred through the bottom gate of the railcar during transit. Ammonium nitrate, which is commonly used as fertilizer and is also an ingredient in high explosives, was the substance involved. This compound was infamously used in the homemade bomb that detonated in the 1995 attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
A report by KQED said the following on the incident:
Dyno Nobel says it believes the material — transported in pellet form in a covered hopper car similar to those used to ship coal — fell from the car on the way to a rail siding (a short track connecting with the main track) called Saltdale about 30 miles from the town of Mojave in eastern Kern County.
“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,” the company said through a spokesperson.
However, a representative from the Federal Railroad Administration contradicts Dyno Nobel’s assessment and points to a potential issue with one of the hopper car gates not being properly closed.
Dyno Nobel states that the trip, which spanned two weeks and included multiple stops, was largely controlled by Union Pacific, with the company having limited control over the railcar. They mention that the railcar is being transported back to Wyoming for inspection and express their intention to investigate the loss of the shipment to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.
Representatives from the Federal Railroad Administration, the California Public Utilities Commission, Union Pacific, and Dyno Nobel are all involved in the ongoing investigation.
In 2007, Congress passed a law to regulate the sale and transfer of ammonium nitrate, aiming to prevent its use in acts of terrorism. The Department of Homeland Security proposed regulations in 2011 (PDF) but did not formally adopt them.