As part of our nation’s antiterrorism program, government agencies are advising businesses and others who handle large amounts of pesticides and/or fertilizer to increase their security.

In recent days, the New York Times has reported extensively about the Federal Aviation Administration’s grounding of crop-dusting planes. Investigators found that suspected hijackers in the terrorist attacks had asked about agricultural planes at a rural airport in Florida. A search of computers, computer disks and personal baggage of one suspected terrorist revealed a significant amount of information downloaded from the Internet about aerial application of pesticides, or crop dusting.

Despite the government’s concern about the use of crop dusters for chemical or biological attacks, and a brief run on gas masks by a panicky public, weapons experts speculate that the terrorists were considering using crop dusters in much the same way that they used passenger jets during the September 11 attack: as flying bombs. Instead of carrying pesticides, the crop dusters could carry fuel.

Nevertheless, we’ve already learned that mixing terrorists or criminals with agriculture is a unique recipe for mayhem. Even as hooligans in our own backyards continue to steal anhydrous ammonia for the illegal production of methamphetamines, we can’t forget the Oklahoma City bombing, which allegedly involved an ammonium nitrate fertilizer bomb.

The war on terrorism is not just some faraway event with a target in a country we can’t pronounce. It’s not even limited to a crowded American city like New York. In this war, even those in the heartland must remain vigilant.

What you can do. When possible, keep agricultural chemicals and application equipment locked up or in a secure area. If you suspect any criminal or terrorist activity related to pesticides or fertilizer, call your local law enforcement authorities. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also suggests these emergency telephone numbers:

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Chicago office, 312/431-1333

National Response System, EPA, 312/353-2318

National Pesticide Telecommunication System, 800/858-7378

The EPA’s Emergency Planning and Community Right-to Know Act (EPCRA) hotline, 800/424-9346;
Web site: http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/hotline/.

You can also check http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/hotline/epcra.htm for more information about the EPCRA, also known as SARA Title III. It was enacted in November 1986 and provides an infrastructure at the state and local levels to plan for chemical emergencies.