About 60,000 pounds of a chemical used as a fertilizer and explosive are missing after they likely went missing during a train ride from Wyoming to California last month, according to federal records.
A railway carriage carrying ammonium nitrate left a plant operated by explosives maker Dyno Nobel in Cheyenne, Wyoming, on April 12, according to an incident report filed by a company representative with the National Response Center on May 10.
The report states that the chemical was released «for an unknown cause» and was found to be missing after the wagon arrived in Saltdale, California, an unincorporated community more than 1,000 miles from Cheyenne.
At the time of the report, the car was empty and on its way back to Wyoming, according to the company.
Ammonium nitrate has been a key ingredient used in both terrorist attacks and fatal accidents.
At least 581 people died in 1947 when more than 2,000 tons of the chemical exploded on a cargo ship that had docked at a port in Texas City, Texas. The same year, in Brest, France, a Norwegian ship containing some 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded, causing 29 deaths.
It was also used in a 1970 bombing on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus that resulted in one death and several injuries, and in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people.
In 2013, ammonium nitrate was the cause of an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, that killed 15 people, injured 200, and leveled hundreds of homes. Federal officials later found that the explosion was a «criminal act.»
In 2020, it was the source of a colossal explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, when more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded, killing more than 200 people and injuring thousands.
«It’s a very common chemical that anyone who has used fertilizer has routinely dealt with and thinks nothing of it,» Nathan Lewis, a professor of chemistry at the California Institute of Technology, told NBC News after the explosion. from Beirut.
«Just give it a little bit of fuel and you’re asking for trouble, and that’s what apparently happened,» Lewis said of the incident in Lebanon.
But a California law enforcement source familiar with the case told NBC News that the recent disappearance of the chemical does not appear to be related to any domestic terrorism threat.
The agencies that would look into a possible threat to national security are not among the main investigative agencies involved in the case, the source said.
Representatives for the Federal Railroad Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, the main investigative agencies involved, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The FBI also had no immediate comment.
Representatives for Dyno Nobel and the California Public Utilities Commission did not respond to requests for comment sent Sunday afternoon.
Kristen South, a spokeswoman for Union Pacific, the rail company that transported the chemical, said in a statement that the disappearance of the chemical should not threaten the public.
«The fertilizer is designed for ground application and rapid absorption into the soil. If the loss was due to a wagon leak during transportation from origin to destination, the release should not pose a risk to public health or the environment. environment,» South said, adding that the company’s investigation into the incident «is in its early stages.»
«At this point in the investigation, we do not believe there was any criminal or malicious activity involved,» South added.
A representative of Dyno Nobel he told KQEDthe California news outlet that first reported the incident, that company representatives believe the chemical leaked through the train car while it was in transit.
“The wagon 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 lower door of the carriage may have developed in transit,» the spokesperson told KQED.
A representative for the Federal Railroad Administration said their ongoing investigation suggests one of the carriage doors was not closed properly, according to the news outlet.
The route, which spans more than 1,000 miles through long stretches of remote territory in the western United States, will make it somewhat difficult to identify the lost cargo or how it could have been released, the sources said.