Aug 6, 2020

What is ammonium nitrate, The chemical fertilizer Which caused an explosion in Beirut?


Experts say the Beirut explosion were among the largest non-nuclear explosions in recent history that has so far killed at least 130 people and injured around 4,000 and displacing 300,000 from their homes., with an unknown number feared trapped under rubble was, according to the government of Lebanon, caused by over 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate kept in storage for over six years without safety measures. Ammonium nitrate is used in fertilizer and in the mining industry as an explosive to blast rock and move mounds of earth. It has some navy functions as well.

What caused an explosion in Beirut?

According to the government of Lebanon, About 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate was stored in the Beirut port warehouse that exploded Tuesday, devastating large parts of the Lebanese capital Beirut. The fertilizer arrived in the city more than six years ago aboard a Russian-owned ship that made an unscheduled stop in the city. 

What Is Ammonium Nitrate?

In its pure form, ammonium nitrate is a white, crystalline chemical which is soluble in water. Its chemical formula is NH₄NO₃. Produced as small porous pellets, or “prills”, it’s one of the most widely used fertilizers. It is also the main component in the manufacture of commercial explosives used in mining and construction. Ammonium nitrate does not burn on its own. Instead, it acts as a source of oxygen that can accelerate the combustion of other materials. For combustion to occur, oxygen must be present. If it mixed with ingredients like fuel or some other contaminants, or because of some other external factors, it can be very explosive.

How Ammonium Nitrate Exploded?

Ammonium nitrate is not explosive by itself. If it mixed with ingredients like oil or some other fuels, or because of some other external factors, it can be very explosive. This is why it is effective in mining explosives, where it's mixed with oil and other fuels. 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 the rapid release of gases that causes an explosion.
How dangerous are the gases produced?
When ammonium nitrate explodes, it can release toxic gases including nitrogen oxides and ammonia gas are bad-smelling gas. The orange plume is caused by nitrogen dioxide, which is often associated with air pollution.

Has this happened before?

Yes, In 1921, about 4,500 tonnes of ammonium nitrate caused an explosion at a plant in Oppau, Germany, killing more than 500 people. In 1947, an explosion in Texas City, Texas, killed at least 581 people after two cargo ships carrying ammonium nitrate caught fire. In 2013, a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, caught fire and exploded, killing 15 people. In 2015, disaster struck in Tianjin, China, when a fertilizer explosion killed 165 people at a busy seaport.

In Australia, they produce and import large amounts of ammonium nitrate, mostly for use in mining. It is made by combining ammonia gas with liquid nitric acid, which itself is made from ammonia.