Two tons were used to create the bomb in theLebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored for years in a Beirut port warehouse had exploded, which destroyed a federal building, killing 168 people. and causing significant damage to the capital.
Ammonium nitrate was among chemicals stored in a warehouse in northern Chinese city of Tianjin, which ignited in 2015, triggering an explosion that killed at least 165 people and caused more a billion dollars in damages.
An investigation found that the improper storage of the chemicals was to blame.
In agriculture, ammonium nitrate fertilizer is applied in granular form and dissolves quickly under moisture, allowing nitrogen – which is essential for 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, Jimmie Oxley, professor of chemistry at the University of Rhode Island, told AFP.
“If you watch the video (of the Beirut explosion), you saw the black smoke, you saw the red smoke – it was an incomplete reaction,” she says.
“I guess there was a small explosion that set off the ammonium nitrate reaction – whether that small explosion was an accident or something on purpose that I haven’t heard yet. ”
This is because ammonium nitrate is an oxidizer – it intensifies combustion and allows other substances to ignite more easily, but itself is not very combustible.
For these reasons, there are usually very strict rules about storage places: for example, it should be kept away from fuels and sources of heat.
In fact, many countries in the European Union require that calcium carbonate be added to ammonium nitrate to create calcium ammonium nitrate, which is safer.
In the United States, regulations were tightened considerably after the Oklahoma City attack.
Under anti-terrorism chemical facility standards, for example, facilities that store more than 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms) of ammonium nitrate are subject to inspections.
Despite its dangers, Oxley said the legitimate uses of ammonium nitrate in agriculture and construction made it indispensable.
“We wouldn’t have this modern world without explosives, and we wouldn’t feed the people we have today without ammonium nitrate fertilizer,” she said.
“We need ammonium nitrate, we just have to be careful what we do with it. “