WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security announced it plans to regulate the sale of ammonium nitrate, 16 years after the fertilizer was used to kill 168 people in the 1995 bombing of 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 administrate?
A DHS official said that the process was prolonged by a thorough examination of what effect regulation of the fertilizer would have on farmers, agricultural retailers and distributors, landscaping services, and construction and mining companies.
The Fertilizer Institute had joined with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives after the Oklahoma City bombings in voluntary programs aimed at ensuring that retailers of fertilizer understood how to identify suspicious activity, said Kathy Mathers, spokeswoman for the Fertilizer Institute, an industry group. If the retailer felt there was suspicious activity, the institute and the ATF recommended that fertilizer facilities ask for photo IDs if they bought 50 pounds or more of the fertilizer.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, "our position evolved to supporting a more stringent uniform set of regulations," she said. But farmers have opposed regulation.
Anders Behring Breivik used ammonium nitrate to bomb a federal building in Oslo, Norway, last month before going on a shooting spree that killed at least 69 people at a youth camp. If he had had to produce identification to buy ammonium nitrate, he likely would have looked for another substance, Williams said.
He 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.
Timothy McVeigh used 4,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.