Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ammonium Nitrate International Sales

As anyone that spends any significant time on the internet knows, one’s email address has a way of making its way onto any number of mailing lists that get sold around the world. One of the places that my email address has been apparently sold is to a chemical marketing company in China. That is the only way that I can explain the number of emails that I get from Chinese chemical companies offering to sell me any of a number of industrial chemicals.

Typically I drop these into the ‘Spam’ folder and pretty much ignore them. One caught my attention today because of the subject line: “ammonium nitrate cooperate”. For fairly obvious reasons I just had to read this email. With the email advertising “high oil absorption and high detonation speed” it is clear that they are selling into the explosives market.

Ammonium Nitrate Regulations

I suspect (I’m not up on ATF rules) that since this is being sold as AN prills at 99.7% ammonium nitrate content it is not currently regulated as an explosive since it is only really an explosive when you add a fuel source like diesel or gasoline. We would expect this to be regulated on the yet to be published DHS Ammonium Nitrate regulations, but who knows when those rules will go into effect. I have been assured by DHS that the NPRM will be published ‘this fall’, but it is already 2 years over due. And, it is a long way between NPRM publication and the effective date of a final rule.

Controlling Ammonium Nitrate Sales

I would also suspect that this Chinese company would sell this material to just about anyone (outside of China) that can pay the freight. They certainly would not be expected to follow any Responsible Care® requirements to vet their customers. So what would stop someone from setting up a dummy chemical company and ordering 3 metric tones (about what McVey used in Oklahoma) of this stuff.

Oh yes, tell me that Customs would question the shipment based on the shipping papers; if the shipping papers were properly prepared, perhaps. But I’ve seen legitimate shipments of Chinese hazardous chemicals reach Georgia from a Long Beach pier without proper markings because the shipping papers neglected to mention that the material was toxic. Many Chinese manufacturers are ill prepared or just disinclined to meet international norms.

No Solutions

I have no easy solution to this problem. I’m not sure how DHS ammonium nitrate rules would be able to stop this type of problem. It would have to rely on Chinese shippers complying with international law, but we have seen too many instances where contaminated chemicals have come out of China to expect rigorous application of shipping rules.

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