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Roughly 30 tons of ammonium nitrate disappeared in mid-April while being moved from Wyoming to California, prompting explosives manufacturer Dyno Nobel to inform federal authorities. More than a month after material vanished during the nearly two-week trip, officials have yet to find cargo, The New York Times reported on Sunday.
Ammonium nitrate is a chemical often used in agricultural fertilizer but can also be implemented in explosives, as it was in the deadly 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, according to the federal government.
A Dyno Nobel spokesperson said the railcar was sealed when it left a facility in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and the seals were “still intact” when it arrived in Saltdale, California. The “initial assessment is that a leak through the bottom gate on the railcar may have developed in transit,” a company spokesperson added.
The company also says it had “limited control” of the train during transport and that the railcar in question was sent back to Wyoming for inspection.
California-based news station KQED first reported last week that inquiries into the vanishing chemical shipment are being conducted by federal, state, and company officials. Union Pacific, the rail company that reported the chemical, told The New York Times that its inquiry is still in its “early stages” and does not suspect malicious or criminal activity.
News of the missing shipment has sparked a great deal of consternation on social media, with some people pointing out that only two tons of ammonium nitrate — a fraction of what the railcar had been carrying — was used in the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people and injured hundreds more.
Union Pacific spokesperson Kristen South suggested that people should not be concerned about health and environmental risks if the material spilled out of the train over a great distance.
“The fertilizer is designed for ground application and quick soil absorption,” South said. “If the loss resulted from a rail car leak over the course of transportation from origin to destination, the release should pose no risk to public health or the environment.”