Liberia: 'Ammonium Nitrate Spillage under Control'

The spilled ammonium nitrate in Small Bomi Community, Sinje, Grand Cape Mount County   Photo credit: The Daylight.  

... Says EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has called for calm after a truck carrying tons of ammonium nitrate, a deadly chemical substance, crashed when it veered off the road in Sinje district.

EPA, at a press conference called on the public not to panic as its scientists and other techni,cians have since put the situation under control and that the chemical no longer poses danger to human lives and the environment.

The truck, belonging to gold mining company Bea Mountain, departed the port city of Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, in the early hours of Saturday morning, carrying 26 metric tons (22 bags) of the chemical to the company’s New Liberty Gold Mines.

Ammonium nitrate, which is one of the world’s most widely used fertilizers -- is also the main component in many types of mining explosives, where it’s mixed with fuel oil and detonated by an explosive charge. While Ammonium nitrate might be good, it is deadly as occurred on August 4, 2020, when the Lebanese capital Beirut experienced a massive explosion caused by more than 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate improperly stored near the city’s cargo port.

At high enough temperatures, however, ammonium nitrate can violently decompose on its own. This process creates gases including nitrogen oxides and water vapor. It is this rapid release of gases that causes an explosion.

The incident occurred along the Small Bomi Community, a town located after Sinje, approximately 3 Kilometers from the Daniel Town laterite road, which leads to the mines. It happened over the weekend.

The truck, with registration number TR-007, driven under the fleet of Sayminee Transport Services, a registered chemical transporter, accidently veered off the left side of the road about 75 meters along the drainage and hit an embankment causing the vehicle to tip over. 

“The tip over resulted into spill of about 10 metric tons of ammonium nitrate at the top of the embankment,” said EPA Executive Director Wilson Tarpeh.  

“The Agency immediately dispatched a team of technicians to assess the situation, engage the community, record environmental data and supervise the recovery process,” he said. This was after being alerted by EPA technicians, assigned to the Joint Security Team escorting the chemical convoy, notified the Agency about the incident. An emergency response team from the entity arrived onsite after four hours of the incident.

 “This is to show how effective our level of response to crisis is,” he said.  

C:\Users\William Harmon\Desktop\Wilson Tarpeh.jpgEPA Executive Director, Prof. Wilson Tarpeh, and his team at a press conference in Monrovia Photo credit: William Q. Harmon 

EPA Assistant Manager for Environmental Research and Radiation Safety Laboratory, Rafael Sarji Ngumbu, disclosed that the site of the spillage has been cleaned since. 

He said the team had a town hall meeting with the community and explained the incident management system—allaying public fear and providing an overview of ammonium nitrate.

“After the town hall meeting, the EPA recorded environmental quality data and supervised the complete cleanup of the spill by the Bea Mountain Mining Company’s Environmental Team,” he disclosed, noting that the EPA certifies that no residue of ammonium nitrate remained after the cleanup process.

“No water sources were observed within 10 meters radius of the area and the incident is unlikely to cause any adverse environmental or health risk to residents of the Small Bomi Community,” Ngumbu said. 

No casualty has been reported, but the driver of the truck, Mr. Raymond S. Howard, is reported to be in a critical condition after sustaining multiple injuries to the head, right arm and left leg. He is undergoing treatment at the St. Timothy Hospital in Robertsport. The incident also caused substantial damage to the cabin of the truck. 

The agency has, however, dispelled reports that the substance was illegally imported into the country. 

“The EPA also clarifies that Bea Mountain Mining Company and its supplier, KAPEKs, complied with all guidelines governing the importation, transport, handling and storage of the current consignment of 5,000 metric tons of ammonium nitrate,” Tarpeh noted. 

“BMMC and KAPEks also obtained all documents required to meet full compliance (Ministry of Mines and Energy Clearance: RL/MME/GEM/018/2022/RL; Ministry of Justice Clearance: FMD/M-AG/MOJ/039/2022/RL; EPA Clearance: ED/EPA-01/00298/22/RL).” 

He added that during the transportation of the ammonium nitrate from Buchanan to New Liberty Gold Mine, the Joint Security Team (MOJ, MME and EPA) provided escort for each convoy.

“We remain committed to working with all stakeholders, both public and private, to ensure that the environment remains safe at all times,” he said, “the Agency reassures the public of its inalienable commitment to ensuring a clean, healthy and safe environment for this and succeeding generations.

Meanwhile, ammonium nitrate is a chemical compound . It is a white crystalline solid consisting of ions of ammonium and nitrate. It is highly soluble in water. Predominantly, it is used in agriculture as a high-nitrogen fertilizer and also to carry on explosion in mining activity.