Engineering News

Idaho Company Ends Fertilizer Production
Thursday June 23, 6:44 am ET
By John Miller, Associated Press Writer

Idaho Company Ends Production of Fertilizer Used in Oklahoma City Bombing

BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- An Idaho company has halted production of the kind of fertilizer used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, citing concerns that ammonium nitrate could fall into terrorist hands or become subject to tighter security restrictions.

A spokesman for Boise-based J.R. Simplot said Wednesday that the company plans to sell over the summer its remaining inventory of fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate, which is used to add nitrates to pasture land and citrus crops.

Timothy McVeigh combined 5,000 pounds of the fertilizer with auto-racing fuel to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The blast killed 168 people. McVeigh was executed in 2001.

Congress is considering new laws regulating ammonium nitrate. Besides agriculture, it can be used to treat titanium ore and make mining explosives.

"We could just see that ammonium nitrate, down the road, could require some security things that we'd be unable to provide," Simplot spokesman Rick Phillips said. "The national security climate told us we probably ought to start looking for some alternatives."

The decision to stop production was made last fall. Simplot had produced 40,000 tons annually at its plant in Brandon, Manitoba, selling the material mostly in Canada and the northern United States.

About 2.2 million tons of agricultural ammonium nitrate is used in the United States annually, according to The Fertilizer Institute, an industry trade group in Washington, D.C.

The material's explosive properties have been known for decades. In 1921, an explosion at a German chemical plant killed at least 430 people. A 1947 blast on a French fertilizer ship in Texas' Galveston Bay ignited refineries that burned for six days.

Ammonium nitrate also is used by the U.S. military in its 15,000-pound "Bunker Buster" bombs.

Until now, dealers have participated in a voluntary program to track fertilizer sales, snap photos of customers and report unusual interest in the product.

The effort has been criticized as ineffective by some in Congress, including Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., who is sponsoring legislation that would require permits and licenses for sellers and buyers, improve storage safety, and force dealers to immediately report thefts and losses.

"Years after the Oklahoma City bombing, the major explosive ingredient Timothy McVeigh used is still unregulated," Hinchey spokesman Jeff Lieberson said.

The Fertilizer Institute, which represents 58 fertilizer-related companies, has not weighed in on Hinchey's proposal, spokeswoman Kathy Mathers said.

The group is backing a Senate measure that directs the Department of Homeland Security to draw up rules requiring registration of all facilities that handle ammonium nitrate fertilizer and record-keeping on all purchases.

Some states have passed their own new rules on ammonium nitrate, and laws are pending elsewhere. The industry hopes federal legislation will eliminate a "patchwork of approaches," Mathers said.

Not all companies are ready to halt production of ammonium nitrate.

Canada's Agrium Inc., which produces 300,000 tons of the chemical, is "reviewing the risk-reward propositions in all our businesses," spokeswoman Christine Gillespie said. "We only sell to known customers and we confirm receipt of all shipments."

Source: AP

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