November 25, 2008 -- In an effort to prevent future terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security has announced new plans to regulate the selling and purchasing of ammonium nitrate. The widely used fertilizer was used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 186 people and was the subject of a 2006 ABC News investigative report that found lethal quantities of the fertilizer was frighteningly easy to obtain.
"Terrorist organizations have and will continue to use explosives, including [ammonium nitrate]-based explosive, in future terrorist attacks," the amendment says, explaining that the availability of bags of the fertilizer around the country means the potentially deadly chemical could end up in the hands of terrorists.
The amendment to the Homeland Security Act means the DHS will require prospective buyers, as well as stores selling ammonium nitrate - commonly found in farm supply and gardening stores- to apply for a registration number from the department. This information will then be screened through a Terrorist Screening Database before the application is accepted or denied.
When the regulations are issued, a buyer's identity and registration number will be checked with every purchase of ammonium nitrate, and sellers will be required to maintain records of transactions for a minimum of two years, according to the new rules.
Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who introduced legislation with Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) in 2005 to secure the trading and handling of ammonium nitrate, applauded the development in a statement, saying it will "keep ammonium nitrate out of the wrong hands without placing an undue burden on our farmers."
The DHS is accepting comments on the amendment, called the Secure Handling of Ammonium Nitrate, on its website until Dec. 29. The comments requested regard whether applications to sell or purchase the chemical should be submitted electronically, in person, or via snail mail, as well as on the detonability of ammonium nitrate and regulatory inspection.
Once comments are received they will be reviewed and considered, but a DHA spokesperson said it is difficult to put a timeline on the rulemaking process and just when these new rules will go into effect is still not known.
The Consolidate Appropriations Act of 2008 gave the DHS authority to regulate the selling and buying of ammonium nitrate to "prevent its misappropriation or use in a terrorist act.