Volume 95, Issue 37
Wednesday, November 7, 2001
Chemicals cause farmers concern
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks prompt nitrate fears
By Kristina Lundblad
With warnings of possible terrorist attacks coming from all directions, the agricultural industry is now issuing a warning of their own.
The Canadian Fertilizer Institute is warning fertilizer distributors to be wary of "suspicious people" inquiring about purchasing ammonium nitrate.
The CFI is making distributors, farmers and retailers of the fertilizer aware of the potential deadliness of ammonium nitrate, a popular nitrogen fertilizer used by many farmers on their fields, said Paul Lansbergen, CFI's manager of communications.
CFI's "On Guard Canada" campaign is an ammonium nitrate awareness program that began in 1996 after the Oklahoma City bombing, in which Timothy McVeigh used ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel to bomb a United States federal building.
The campaign was reintroduced after the events of Sept. 11, said Lansbergen, but no new threats have yet surfaced.
"I am not aware of any incidents thus far," Lansbergen said, adding after recent terrorist attacks, authorities take all necessary precautions.
Those who store ammonium nitrate are told to question anyone inquiring about the chemical, but not displaying any knowledge about the product or how it is used, he said. Most distributors already provide the fertilizer to a select group of farmers and would quickly notice a new client inquiring about the chemical, Lansbergen added.
Wes Thompson Jr., president of WG Thompson and Sons Ltd. a local farming supplies provider, said his company distributes ammonium nitrate to farmers and has been put on alert by CFI.
According to Thompson, ammonium nitrate is a bulk product and is very heavy. "It's not like blasting caps or sticks of dynamite you need a truck to transport it," he said, adding the alert is only based on ammonium nitrate, for it is the only fertilizer considered a worry at this point.
Western chemistry professor Colin Baird said ammonium nitrate comes in a powder form and has a high source of nitrogen.
"The chemical is capable of reorganizing its atoms and converting them into another substance, like a gas, with tremendous energy," Baird explained. "To get it going, it needs to be heated up and then it blows."
"It is a realistic possibility. These items are readily available there is no shortage of them," said plant sciences professor Mark Bernards.
He added other products, like diesel fuel, can be used with ammonium nitrate to create an explosive.
However, Thompson said this warning has been issued before and most distributors are always on the lookout for suspicious people inquiring about ammonium nitrate.
"I don't think [the warning] is anything out of the ordinary, it's just a refresher," he said. "There are no shivers through the industry that I could pick up."
Copyright © The Gazette 2001