The Homeland Security Department announced plans Tuesday to regulate the sale of ammonium nitrate, 16 years after the fertilizer was used to make a bomb that killed 168 people at a federal office building in Oklahoma City.
Under the proposed regulations, anyone who buys, sells or transfers 25 pounds of the chemical must apply to register with the department. Ammonium nitrate facilities must also keep records of sales or transfers of the chemical for at least two years after each transaction.
"Twenty-five pounds of ammonium nitrate would be enough to level a conventional house," said Dave Williams, a former FBI agent who has studied explosives for 27 years. "So that is a pretty large charge. Regulating 25 pounds — I don't see a problem with that — but what we've gotta consider is, what's it going to cost" to administer?
A Homeland Security Department official said the process was prolonged by a thorough examination of what effect the regulations would have on farmers, agricultural retailers and distributors, landscaping services, and construction and mining companies. The rules are expected to take effect after a 120-day public comment period.
After the Oklahoma City bombing, the Fertilizer Institute joined with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in voluntary programs aimed at ensuring that fertilizer retailers understood how to identify suspicious activity, said Kathy Mathers, spokeswoman for the industry group. If a retailer believed there was suspicious activity, the institute and the ATF recommended that fertilizer facility operators ask for photo identification from those who purchase 50 pounds or more.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, "our position evolved to supporting a more stringent uniform set of regulations," she said. But farmers have opposed regulation.
Timothy McVeigh used 4,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. A Norwegian man is believed to have used ammonium nitrate in last month's bombing of a federal building in Oslo.
Williams said the regulations could help U.S. anti-terrorism efforts.
"I think it would cause the individual trying to obtain ammonium nitrate second thoughts," Williams said.