News Stories

New Fertilizer Can't Make Bombs

Ever since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, in which a truck filled with fertilizer parked outside was used as a weapon, Homeland Security has worried about terrorists using fertilizer bombs. They've already been used in Baghdad. Now a major company has created fertilizer that cannot be turned into a bomb.

Anil Ananthaswamy writes in New Scientist that the problem is the ammonium nitrate in the fertilizer, which is an essential ingredient. However, Specialty Fertilizer Products has patented a water-soluble polymer coating for the fertilizer granules that repels fuel oil, so it is not flammable. The coating dissolves rapidly in soil, so it won?t interfere with its use as a fertilizer.

But one expert thinks the coating might react with ammonium nitrate under high temperatures and intense pressures to actually provide additional energy for an even larger explosion.

Another solution would be to put a marker in each brand of fertilizer so it could be traced back to its purchaser if used to make a bomb. Microtrace makes microscopic plastic barcodes that can be added to fertilizer. Authentix says it can chemically tag any fertilizer during manufacturing. Authentix's Ian Eastwood says, "We can pick up traces of that marker in the explosive up to [3 miles] away after an explosion."

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