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60,000 pounds of explosive chemicals lost in rail transport from Wyoming to California

According to federal records, about 60,000 pounds of a chemical used as both a fertilizer and an explosive went missing after it likely went missing on a train trip from Wyoming to California last month.

A railcar carrying ammonium nitrate left a factory 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 April 12. May 10.

The report says the chemical was released “for an unknown cause” and was discovered missing after the wagon arrived in Saltdale, Calif., 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 terrorist attacks and fatal accidents.

At least 581 people were killed in 1947 when more than 2,000 tons of chemicals exploded on a freighter that had docked at a port in Texas City, Texas. In the same year, in Brest, France, a Norwegian ship containing around 3,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded, killing 29 people.

It was also used in a 1970 bombing on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus that left one dead and several injured, and in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people.

In 2013, ammonium nitrate caused an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, killing 15 people, injuring 200 and destroying hundreds of homes. Federal officials later discovered that the explosion was a “criminal act.”

In 2020, he was the cause of a colossal explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, when more than 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded, killing more than 200 people and injuring thousands.

“It’s a very common chemical that anyone who’s used fertilizer has dealt with on a regular basis and doesn’t think about it,” Nathan Lewis, a chemistry professor at the California Institute of Technology, told NBC News after the Beirut explosion. .

“You just give it some fuel and you ask for trouble, and that’s apparently what happened,” Lewis said of the incident in Lebanon.

But a California law enforcement source familiar with the case told NBC News that the chemical’s recent disappearance does not appear to be linked to a domestic terrorism threat.

The agencies that would investigate a potential homeland security threat are not among the primary investigative agencies involved in the case, the source said.

Representatives of the Federal Railroad Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, the primary 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, spokeswoman for Union Pacific, the railroad that was transporting the chemical, said in a statement that the disappearance of the chemical should not pose a threat to the public.

“The fertilizer is designed for soil application and rapid uptake from the soil. If loss results from railcar leakage during transport from origin to destination, release should pose no health risk. public or the environment,” South said, adding that the company’s investigation into the incident “is in its early stages.”

“At this stage of the investigation, we do not believe there is any criminal or malicious activity,” South added.

A Dyno Nobel representative told KQED, the California news outlet that first reported the incident, that company representatives believe the chemical leaked through the railcar during transport.

“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 car’s lower door may have developed during transit,” the spokesperson told KQED.

A Federal Railroad Administration representative said their ongoing investigation suggests one of the car’s doors was not properly closed, according to the outlet.

The route, which stretches over 1,000 miles through long stretches of remote territory in the western United States, will make it somewhat difficult to locate missing cargo or how it may have been released. , sources said.


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