The ammonium nitrate went missing from a railcar that left Cheyenne, Wyoming on April 12. Two weeks later, when the train reached a rail stop in the Mojave Desert, an inspection found that the railcar was empty. (Related: IT KEEPS HAPPENING: Tanker carrying thousands of gallons of propane fuel FLIPS OVER in Florida train derailment.)
The ammonium nitrate came from the company Dyno Nobel, which has a plant near Cheyenne. It reported the incident on May 10 to the National Response Center, an agency under the United States Coast Guard that acts as the federal government's sole point of contact for reporting hazardous discharges into the environment anywhere in the U.S. or its territories, including chemical spills.
Ammonium nitrate is commonly used in the U.S. as fertilizer. But it is also used as a crucial ingredient in high explosives. Dyno Nobel actually makes ammonium nitrate to sell as an explosive, usually for coal and metals mining, quarrying and construction.
Ammonium nitrate was also the key component used in the homemade bomb detonated in the 1995 attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people and injured nearly 700 more.
It was also the substance that caused the deadly explosion in a warehouse in the Port of Beirut in Lebanon in 2020. This explosion caused 218 deaths, over 7,000 injuries and over $15 billion in property damage. The incident also left an estimated 300,000 people homeless.
According to Dyno Nobel's current working theory, the ammonium nitrate – which was transported in pellet form in a covered hopper car similar to those used to ship coal – fell from the car on the way to a rail siding, a short track that connects with the main railroad.
The rail siding is located in Saltdale, an unincorporated community about 26 miles to the northeast of the town of Mojave in eastern Kern County, California.
"The railcar was sealed when it left the Cheyenne facility, and the seals were intact when it arrived in Saltdale," said the company through a spokesperson. "The initial assessment is that a leak through the bottom gate on the railcar may have developed in transit.
A separate investigation being conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration suggests that one of the hopper car gates was not properly closed, which could have led to the ammonium nitrate spilling all along the approximately 800-mile journey from Cheyenne to Saltdale.
Dyno Nobel claims the trip to Saltdale lasted two weeks and included multiple stops. The company added that it only has very limited control over the railcar as soon as it is on its journey, as the Union Pacific Corporation, which controls the railroad, takes over.
Dyno Nobel and the FRA's investigations are ongoing. The California Public Utilities Commission and the Union Pacific Corporation are also conducting their own investigations.
The railcar that carried the ammonium nitrate is on its way back to Wyoming for inspection. Dyno Nobel said it hopes to better understand how the shipment was lost, and upon the conclusion of its investigation hopes to bring up recommendations to prevent something similar from happening again.
None of the four separate and ongoing investigations on the matter suspect foul play. But the loss of a massive amount of hazardous chemicals is very questionable, especially given the fact that this is just the latest rail problem to occur since February, when a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, causing a massive explosion that spread harmful substances to the surrounding communities and farther.
Learn the latest dangerous incidents to occur in the United States at Chaos.news.
Watch this episode of "Evolutionary Energy Arts" as hosts Michael and Cindy Lazaro discuss how unlikely it is that 30 tons of ammonium nitrate just went missing from a train car.