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Urea Nitrate

     The Department of Homeland Security Office of Infrastructure Protection has discovered yet another twist to the improvised “terrorist” bomb making cadre’, found in the middle east, notably Saudi Arabia and the West Bank. A number of foiled attempts using "Urea Nitrate" have been stopped that were slated for Australia and the US. This particular product is used much like ammonium nitrate and delivered by large vehicle type bombing scenarios. Some of this material was used in the 1993 World Trade Center attack.

     Urea Nitrate vehicle bombs sometimes show themselves as unusual car fires. Firefighters need to be suspicious of vehicle fires that typically do not burn the same as most common vehicle fires. What you may see upon arrival is white smoke generating at a much smaller rate than the typical car fire. Once you have assesed there are no trapped victims, consider these options. Vehicles that are parked near entrances which normally gather large volumes of people should be suspect. Out-of-State plates, poor parking skills, and any other abnormality should stimulate your alarm indicators. If these activate, immediately get your local PD involved. Rather than entering the vehicle for a fire attack, clear away bystanders, seal off the area, and protect your firefighters by moving equipment and personnel back. Either way, if it is a car-fire, it will show itself and all that is lost is a vehicle. If local PD agrees with your suspicious investigation, the bomb squad will be dispatched to your scene.

     If you have never been involved in a bomb run, a lot of time is spent with little getting done. This is practiced so personnel exposure is minimized in case the vehicle does detonate. Fire Department quick involvement may only injure you, with low probability of helping others. Many times after bomb squad personnel conduct their assessment of the vehicle, they may find “chemicals” instead of a “device”. This is when your Haz-Mat Team is summoned for the next phase of the response.

     In a situation such as this, Haz-Mat may have analytical means of identification with physical description. Remember, all chemicals MUST be identified “before”, Haz-Mat can separate and isolate, or package them for waste removal into the hands of a Environmental Waste Contractor. Haz-Mat is also known for slow movement, again to protect responders, because there is little reason for getting injured by a chemical. So again, there is no rush for YOU, to charge in and take the chance of getting injured or killed when no life is at stake.

     Urea Nitrate is a colorless crystal or white powder that is stable, and slightly soluble in water. Some hints inside the vehicle could be corroded containers as urea nitrate is strongly acidic. This product is made by mixing various acids with urea. Suspected perpetrators may have yellow hands or marks on their skin. Creating this material will turn the skin yellow. Persons with yellow hands and found with urea may indicate urea nitrate production. Urea Nitrate is similar in power to Ammonium Nitrate which is widely used in fertilizers and explosives.

     Home grown or local terrorists may prefer using urea nitrate for a variety of reasons. First, the chemical “precursors” of this compound, namely urea or nitric acid are not classified as explosives. Second, they are inexpensive and relatively easy to purchase. Third, the combination into urea nitrate is relatively easy to perform. Fourth, the acquisition of urea may attract less attention than the purchase of ammonium nitrate.

     According to the Fertilizer Institute in 2006-2007, ammonium nitrate consumption is primarily being replaced by urea. The United States now consumes more than five {5} times the amount of urea fertilizer than ammonium nitrate. Members of the agricultural community have been encouraged to report suspicious purchases or theft of these products to BATF {The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms} through the “America’s Security Begins with You” initiative.

     Fire Departments discovering these materials at a fire or medical incident should inform their officer and PD before they clear the incident scene. A cautious investigation into an innocent situation will only require time, and who knows, you may be responsible for a foiled attack, saving countless lives.

                                                                 Haz Mat Mike


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