Beirut explosion caused by tons of ammonium nitrate

Five major industrial incidents caused by ammonium nitrate

The ammonium nitrate caused the massive explosion in Lebanon’s capital Beirut. The explosion caused huge damage to the human lives and properties. It is a big blow to the country already reeling under severe economic crisis.

Many people immediately called it a nuclear explosion without verifying the facts. They assumed that  the cloud of smoke was the result of nuclear explosions.It was a wrong assumption.   

 Lebanese authorities have confirmed that the cause of the devastating Beirut explosion was ammonium nitrate; an odorless crystalline substance commonly used as a fertilizer and has caused numerous industrial explosions over the decades.

These notably include one at a Texas fertilizer plant in 2013 that killed 15 and was ruled deliberate, and a North Korean railway blast that left 161 dead in 2004. Two tonnes of it were used to create the bomb in the 1995 Oklahoma City attack that destroyed a federal building, leaving 168 people dead.

Ammonium nitrate was among the chemicals stored in a warehouse in China's northern city of Tianjin that ignited in 2015, triggering a blast that killed at least 165 people and caused over $1 billion in damages. An investigation found improper storage of the chemicals was to blame.

When combined with fuel oils, ammonium nitrate creates a potent explosive widely used in the construction industry, but also by insurgent groups such as the Taliban for improvised explosives.

Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate that had been stored for years in a Beirut port side warehouse had exploded, killing 114 of people and causing widespread damage to the capital.

In agriculture, ammonium nitrate fertilizer is applied in granule form and quickly dissolves under moisture, allowing nitrogen — which is key to plant growth — to be released into the soil.

However, under normal storage conditions and without very high heat, it is difficult to ignite ammonium nitrate. One chemical expert and professor of chemistry said that "if you look at the video of the Beirut explosion, you saw the black smoke, you saw the red smoke, — that was an incomplete reaction."

"I am assuming that there was a small explosion that instigated the reaction of the ammonium nitrate — whether that small explosion was an accident or something on purpose I haven't heard yet."

That is because ammonium nitrate is an oxidizer — it intensifies combustion and allows other substances to ignite more readily, but is not itself very combustible. For these reasons, there are generally very strict rules about where it can be stored: for example, it must be kept away from fuels and sources of heat.

 In fact, many countries in the European Union require that calcium carbonate to be added to ammonium nitrate to create calcium ammonium nitrate, which is safer.

In the United States, regulations were tightened significantly after the Oklahoma City attack.

Under the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards, for example, facilities that store more than 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms) of ammonium nitrate are subject to inspections.

Ammonium Nitrate is a dangerous substance but it is beneficial for agriculture purpose. It helps to increase productivity. The investigations are underway to determine the cause of massive explosion in Beirut. It is not yet clear that what  caused that devastated explosion. Many people are  raising fingers at Israel. 

                                                                             Khalid Bhatti 


No comments

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Powered by Blogger.