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From the buzzards perspective...

Random articles that are created as I travel, experience new things, meet new people and discover new insights.

  • Writer's pictureEddy Weiss

I have never lost 60,000+ pounds of anything.

I hate it when I lose things. Yesterday I looked all over for a simple set of vise grips. We all lose things. Keys. Phones. Jewelry. Never, and I mean NEVER, have I lost 60,000 pounds of ANYTHING.

Approximately 61,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate a chemical used as both fertilizer and an ingredient in explosives, went missing when it was shipped by rail from Wyoming to California last month, “prompting officials” to begin investigating the mysterious disappearance.

Now, perhaps there is a farmer cartel out there that just really needed the product, but I am quite surprised by the lacadasical approach that is being taken to this investigation so far since ammonium nitrate was used in 1995 at an attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. If you are too young or you forgot, the explosion killed 168 people and injured approximately 850 and the entire explosive device fit in a rental truck. It was much less than 61,000 pounds.

On April 12, a railcar loaded with 30 tons of the chemical left Cheyenne Wyoming, however, according to an incident report from Dyno Nobel, when the car arrived two weeks later at a rail stop in the Mojave Desert, it was completely empty.

Dyno Nobel, the company responsible for shipping the ammonium nitrate is a leader in commercial explosives and filed a report with the federal National Response Center (NRC) on May 10.

The Federal Railroad Administration, the California Public Utilities Commission, Union Pacific, and Dyno Nobel are looking into the disappearance, and the railcar is being transported back to Wyoming to undergo a thorough inspection.

Dyno Nobel has said in statements that they believe the shipment “fell off” on the way to a rail siding about 30 miles from Mojave. Fell off? As an experiment last night, I weighed my toolbox with my bathroom scale (always the researcher!) and it weighed 62 pounds. This toolbox has sat in my truck for years. It has traveled on the tailgate at 75MPH. It has maintained its stance on dirt roads, over hills, down into gullies and through flooded areas. It has never “fallen off” my truck.

Here is a portion of the statement: "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 chemical, ammonium nitrate, is relatively harmless by itself but has caused deadly explosions in industrial accidents and has been used in targeted attacks.

The missing chemical had two whole weeks to disappear from the railcar.

Dyno Nobel is already claiming that they have “limited control” over the train’s activity during transport, which is probably true and also a great way of saying “Hey, it was on there when it left our place!”

The company said it does not suspect any criminal or malicious activity was involved in the disappearance of the cargo. I guess this would be classified as a “weather balloon incident” then?

I hope that this is resolved. In my heart I hope that somewhere, sitting beside the railroad tracks somewhere out west is a hobo sitting on a big pile of white bags. I pray that this is just stupidity and a reason to once again look at transit protocols. In my gut, I am sick thinking about the potential implications of such a load being grasped by a group like the Save The Forest activists in Atlanta.

As of Sunday, there was still no word from any of the investigating agencies.

This is pretty serious stuff when used as an explosive. You might remember in 2013 when 15 people were killed and more than 260 others were injured in West Texas, after ammonium nitrate exploded at a fertilizer plant. That explosion was due to a fire that had been intentionally set. Looking back closer to our time, in 2020, more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in the port of Beirut, Lebanon killing more than 200 people and injuring 6,000!

Ammonium nitrate can affect you when inhaled and by passing through your skin. It will irritate and burn eyes and inhaling it will irritate the nose, throat and lungs. High levels of exposure may cause methemoglobinemia with headache, fatigue and blue color to skin and lips.

Any large quantity of ammonium nitrate that is exposed to intense heat can trigger an explosion. The good news is that if someone took the fertilizer for evil purposes, they have to know what they are doing. You cannot just toss a gas can and a match on the fertilizer and get the results you need. The engine behind the explosion is the fertilizer, but the bomb needs a detonator and the perfect amount of fuel to create the right amount of energy to ignite the fertilizer.

So for now we wait, but we wonder. Is it time to take a second look at our transportation industry when it comes to commercial goods like we did with transportation of people after September 11th?


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