Department of Homeland Security

Chemical Security

With all of the other federal agencies regulating the rocket hobby in some way it was only a matter of time before the new Department of Homeland Security got into the act. DHS is concerned about certain high risk chemical facilities but the regulations are much more inclusive than you might think.

While the regulations will have little or no effect on users of rocket motors, they could impact manufacturers. The first step in the DHS regulations is that anyone who possesses, or may possess, more than the quantities of certain chemicals listed in the regulations must register and then fill out a questionnaire. That list sets a threshold for ammonium perchlorate of 2,000 pounds. AP is the primary ingredient in APCP so a manufacturer who does any volume at all will almost certainly exceed this threshold. Especially if they buy in bulk to control costs.

While I don't think any motor manufacturer will make the "high risk" list and be required to perform all sorts of planning and such, any facility that may posses materials must submit to the initial screening process. Failure to do so could result in fines or an order to cease business.

One of the more onerous provisions of these regulations is the creation of a category of information that must be controlled called "Chemical-terrorism Vulnerability Information" or CVI. As I was following the news on the recent events at a industrial gas supplier near downtown Dallas I noticed something interesting. The Dallas Morning News published a map showing businesses with hazardous materials in the area on Friday, 27 July. The release of this information and even the publication of it could now be a crime.

6 CFR 27.400(c) Covered Persons. Persons subject to the requirements of this section are:

(1) Each person who has a need to know CVI, as specified in 27.400(e);

(2) Each person who otherwise receives or gains access to what they know or should reasonably know constitutes CVI.

(d) Duty to protect information. A covered person must

(1) Take reasonable steps to safeguard CVI in that persons possession or control, including electronic data, from unauthorized disclosure. When a person is not in physical possession of CVI, the person must store it in a secure container, such as a safe, that limits access only to covered persons with a need to know;

Heck, It looks like I need to lock up my copy of the paper in a safe!

7 November

While DHS has not yet published in the Federal Register their revised list of chemicals and it isn't official until they do, it is available on their web pages.



The good news is that APCP is not on the list. The discussion says that only class 1.1 (mass detonable) explosives named by DOT (not listed as "N.O.S.") were included.

The bad news is that ammonium perchlorate is still on the list. Looking at the discussion, DHS got at least part of their facts wrong:

"DHS is including ammonium perchlorate on the list, because it is a DOT Class 1, Division 1.1 explosive that presents two security issues (see section II(C) above): theft/diversion-EXP/IEDP and release-explosive."

The problem is that DOT has two classifications for ammonium perchlorate. AP is class 1.1 for small particles and class 5.1 (oxidizer) otherwise. Even with a specific comment from the American Pyrotechnics Association, DHS got it wrong.

DHS has made the table substantially more complicated than the initial version. Instead of a single threshold quantity, there are several based on perceived risks/threats. The threshold for the theft/diversion category for AP is 400 pounds. This will almost certainly effect every rocket motor manufacturer. Just another pile of regulations that they have to worry about.

20 November 2007

DHS published the final version of Appendix A in the Federal Register today. This starts the clock ticking for submitting a Top Screen.

The STQ for ammonium perchlorate is 400 pounds for "theft/diversion" and 2,000 pounds for "release". When determining the amount for theft and diversion you must include everything in transportation packaging as defined by the DOT at 49 CFR 171.8. (See 6 CFR 27.203(c)) Digging up an old reference it appears that the standard AP shipping drum holds 250 pounds. Get two of these delivered and you have a DHS reportable theft/diversion hazard. But, as near as I can tell, if the drums are delivered on a trailer attached to a truck, and the trailer remains attached to the truck, the drums would be considered to be in "transportation" and not count. Even if you leave it parked for a very long time.

I predict that one or more rocket motor manufacturers will now remove AP from shipping drums and store it in something else. This will add needless handling but it will raise the bar to 2,000 pounds before having to submit to these intrusive regulations.

Ammonium Nitrate

Ever since the Oklahoma City bombing there have been noises about regulating the sale of ammonium nitrate. Several states had passed regulations but in late 2007 the U.S. Congress finally got into the act. While AN is not an important oxidizer in rocket motors it is used as an alternative to ammonium perchlorate by a few.

A law slipped into a must pass budget bill required DHS to issue regulations on the sale of AN. All sellers and purchasers must be registered with DHS. Although the law required DHS to issue proposed rules within 6 months and final rules within 12, DHS failed to meet those deadlines. The NPRM didn't appear until 3 August 2011 and as of today (23 April 2013) there is still no final rule.

Even without these rules the supply of AN has dried up. I have not been able to locate any for sale in quite some time. My father grows wheat in Oklahoma and his two cheapest sources of nitrogen (AN and anhydrous ammonia) have vanished.

When the DHS does finally provide rules on registering to purchase AN I intend to register and I encourage anyone who even thinks they might consider the possibility of buying AN in the future to register. Perhaps if DHS is overwhelmed Congress will rethink this bit of idiocy.