Following the destruction caused by ammonium nitrate exploding at Beirut's port, there are concerns globally about its storage. In April 1995, American terrorists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols used two tons of the compound in a truck-bomb attack on the Oklahoma City federal building; 168 people were killed. This week, a massive explosion involving ammonium nitrate rocked the city of Beirut, sending shock waves through the media.. When something burns, it requires oxygen—that’s why fire extinguishers can easily put out flames by smothering them. What leveled Beirut on Tuesday sounds eerily similar to descriptions of a massive 1947 explosion in Texas City, Texas. The blast registered as magnitude 3.3 on the Richter scale, and caused devastation usually associated with major earthquakes. "If the pictures are right, this was something meant to be an oxidizer used with other agents," such as explosives used for mining, he says. In the Beirut explosion, the resulting shockwave moved faster than the speed of sound; cell phone videos show the impact washing over the city a few seconds before a sonic boom rumbles. Even a small amount of contamination would have made the ammonium nitrate more likely to detonate. Beirut officials have identified ammonium nitrate as the base component of Tuesday's explosion. The cargo ship Grandcamp was in Texas City harbor being loaded when a fire was detected in the hold. In ordinary circumstances, ammonium nitrate is fertilizer. … But the chemical has a more nefarious use -- as an explosive. The dangers of ammonium nitrate have been in the spotlight since Aug 4 when 2,750 tonnes of the chemical set off a massive explosion in Beirut's port area. It has been the cause of previous industrial accidents, and an ingredient in acts of terrorism as well. What Is Ammonium Nitrate, Blamed in the Beirut Explosion? Though Lebanese authorities have said ammonium nitrate was the culprit in the blast, Lewis notes that in many cases commercial explosives are referred to as just this compound even though they contain additives. “The human impact of it is the important thing, and it affected people a dozen kilometers away.”. Look closely at footage of downtown Beirut, and you can see the ground warp and buckle just after the blast erupted from the warehouse on August 4. It is classified as an oxidiser (Grade 5.1) under the United Nations classification of dangerous goods. By comparing the blast’s size against nearby buildings, video of the Beirut incident shows that in the eighth of a second after the explosion occurred, its spherical shockwave grew to roughly 800 feet wide. EPA Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response; Explosion Hazard from Ammonium Nitrate. This recent tragedy is devastating, and unfortunately, it’s not the first time this dangerous chemical compound has caused widespread damage. Or, this discrepancy might mean that the material inside the warehouse was not pure ammonium nitrate, and some other compound was involved with the blast. In 2015, disaster struck in Tianjin, China, when a fertilizer explosion killed 165 people at a busy seaport. The monster explosion that destroyed a good bit of Beirut was caused by the detonation of more than 2,700 tons of the fertilizer ammonium nitrate – a ghastly amount of one seriously scary chemical. The Biggest Ammonium Nitrate Explosions since 2000. The huge explosion that rocked the Lebanese capital on Tuesday is thought to have been caused by ammonium nitrate. 2,750 tons of the chemical that had been stored in a Beirut warehouse blew up, killing dozens of people and injuring many more Ammonium nitrate has caused similar explosions in the past – including the Texas City Disaster of 1947, when almost nearly 500 people were killed in an explosion … Oxidizers do the opposite: They increase the amount of oxygen molecules that concentrate in a space, which helps make other substances more flammable. The biggest ammonium nitrate explosion that has taken place was the Texas City explosion on April 16, 1947. The chemical is often used as fertilizer — and in explosives. The explosion of large storage can happen primarily in two ways. Large quantities of stored ammonium nitrate are regarded as a major fire hazard, with multiple reported cases across the world. Heating also poses a danger: ammonium nitrate decomposes at around 230˚C, and can explode when heated to between 260–300˚C if it’s confined. Given the reported amount, Oxley hypothesizes that a vehicle must have been used to carry the compound inside, and that could have contaminated it with oil or gasoline. Using math pioneered in the 1940s to infer the atomic bomb’s yield, experts can analyze videos of a shockwave to get rough estimates of an explosion’s total energy and how much material blew up. Burning ammonium nitrate in an open field, for instance, isn't likely to result in an explosion, Rae said. Yes. The huge change in phase creates a shockwave.”. Ammonium nitrate is used in fertilizer and in the mining industry as an explosive to blast rock and move mounds of earth. Any carbon-rich fuel—paper, cardboard, or even sugar—can pair with ammonium nitrate to produce more intense energy. The chemical compound ammonium nitrate is believed to have been the cause of the devastating explosion in Beirut on Tuesday. McVeigh left the truck after setting a five-minute fuse to detonate the mixture. EPA 550 … [screaming] [smaller explosions] [giant blast] [alarms] [alarms] [crying]. The ensuing explosion killed some 600 people, including everyone on the dock and ship. “There’s a massive amount of energy given off very quickly,” says Stephen Beaudoin, a chemical engineer also at Purdue University. It is the main component of explosive used in mining activities all over the world and hasn’t been banned as reported. That bomb, the GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast, has a net explosive weight of 18,700 pounds or roughly 9.35 tons of TNT, according to data from the U.S. Army Defense Ammunition Center. The ammonium nitrate never made it to Mozambique, the source said, and instead was kept in a container at Beirut's port for over six years before exploding earlier this week. But for the compound to figure in an explosion of this magnitude, chemists and explosives experts say a lot has to go wrong. The shipment was eventually abandoned, and its cargo moved into the hangar where it remained, despite Lebanese custom officials requesting its disposal on at least six different occasions, according to The New York Times. An explosion of ammonium nitrate was responsible for the worst industrial accident in US history in 1947. If subjected to fire in such bulk quantities, and in a semi-contained environment like a warehouse, the potential for detonation is strong. The ammonium nitrate never made it to Mozambique, the source said, and instead was kept in a container at Beirut's port for over six years before exploding earlier this week. But Lebanon's Interior Minister said the blast was a store of about 2,750 tonnes of seized ammonium nitrate blowing up. Though Jeffrey Lewis, an arms control expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, estimates it’s probably closer to 400 tons. Piling up large amounts of ammonium nitrate allows more heat to be contained for longer when a mixture burns. “It will oxidize that fuel very rapidly, create a huge amount of gas, and give off a huge amount of heat. What detonated the explosive compound remains unclear—but the Beirut blast is not the first time ammonium nitrate has led to calamity. Investigators confirmed that ammonium nitrate was … However, if it is contaminated with impurities, the risk of it detonating increases. September 1921 im Werk der Badischen Anilin- & Soda-Fabrik in Oppau, das heute zu Ludwigshafen am Rhein gehört. An aerial view shows the massive damage at Beirut port's grain silos and the surrounding area on August 5, 2020, one day after a massive explosion hit the heart of the Lebanese capital. © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society, © 2015- Solution for Ammonium nitrate is an explosive and a fertilizer. Annually, the world produces and stores enormous amounts of ammonium nitrate—more than 20 million tons in 2017. And just five years ago, an estimated 800 tons of ammonium nitrate fueled a warehouse explosion that leveled part of a port in the Chinese city of Tianjin, killing 173. The ammonium and nitrate molecules break down, and a large amount of oxygen gas is suddenly formed. Ammonium nitrate stored at site of massive Beirut explosion: Officials At least 70 are dead and more than 3,500 are injured, authorities say. In these cases (e.g., an explosion in 1977), the explosions of ammonium nitrate occurred as a result of excessively high temperatures and confinement during processing. When combined with fuel oils, ammonium nitrate creates a potent explosive widely used by the construction industry, but also by insurgent groups like the Taliban for improvised explosives. Rescuers searched for survivors in Beirut in the morning after a cataclysmic explosion at the port sowed devastation across entire neighbourhoods, killing more than 100 people, wounding thousands and plunging Lebanon deeper into crisis. This recent tragedy is devastating, and unfortunately, it’s not the first time this dangerous chemical compound has caused widespread damage. Ammonium nitrate: what is it and why did it cause the blast in Beirut? In 2013, ammonium nitrate caused a deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. Lebanese officials say that thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse at the port in Beirut caused the powerful explosion that devastated the city on Tuesday, killing more than 130 people, injuring at least 4,000 and displacing 300,000 from their homes. It is used in fertilisers and explosives, as well as a … But how can such a chemical cause such a massive and destructive blast? Cell phone videos also show the shockwave and dust cloud rushing through the portside buildings, leaving behind scenes of carnage in the Lebanese capital. The resulting explosion destroyed the entire front facade of the 117 foot structure, killing 168 people. An explosion occurred in a warehouse storing some 300 metric tons of ammonium nitrate in the southern French city of Toulouse. Pure ammonium nitrate is not an explosive on its own. Ammonium nitrate would only explode on its own if its temperature was rapidly raised to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Maritime traffic services and documents obtained by CNN describe a shipment of 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate that was detained in Beirut in … Videos taken closer to the explosion showed how a wall of compressed air shattered everything in its path as it moved closer, eventually sending the cameras themselves flying. “Ammonium nitrate does not degrade with time under normal storage conditions,” he says. Some internet rumors speculate that because the ammonium nitrate was left to sit in a warehouse for several years, it would have degraded, becoming more volatile and increasingly dangerous over time. A large explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 4. If the ammonium nitrate in Beirut was stored in wooden or cardboard containers, it would have made the substance incredibly flammable, says Jimmie Oxley, a chemist at the University of Rhode Island. Images from Beirut reveal a … But the compound can contribute to explosions because it belongs to a chemical class known as oxidizers. Orica's ammonium nitrate plant stores up to four times the amount that was in the Beirut explosion, but the company says it's safe and highly regulated. The Great Explosion: On April 2, 1916, at 14:20, a factory in Uplees, Faversham, exploded … The fertilizer arrived in the city more than six years ago aboard a Russian-owned cargo ship that made an unscheduled stop in the city. An ammonium nitrate explosion produces massive amounts of nitrogen oxides. A more likely explanation is that the ammonium nitrate in Beirut was not alone inside the warehouse. “Ammonium nitrate is derived from the reaction between ammonia and nitric acid. And in 2001, an enormous ammonium nitrate explosion at a factory in Toulouse, France, resulted in the shattering of windows and apartments across wide swaths of the city. Aluminum sulfate has also been used as a drying additive for ammonium nitrate. In 2013, a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, caught fire and exploded, killing 15 people. Am Morgen um 7:32 Uhr kam es zu zwei kurz aufeinanderfolgenden Explosionen von etwa 400 Tonnen Ammoniumsulfatnitrat, einem Düngemittel. Compared to most combustible materials, ammonium nitrate itself is not exceptionally explosive. The deadly explosion in Beirut, and the reddish plumes of smoke that followed, showed telltale signs of an ammonium nitrate blast, experts said. Once a reaction is sparked (by some other means) the ammonium nitrate quickly decomposes into… The captain closed the hold and pumped in pressurized steam. Experts believe the cause of the explosion is linked to 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that had been stored at a warehouse at the port in Lebanon's capital since 2014. If the name sounds familiar it's because the chemical is notorious. The Biggest Ammonium Nitrate Explosions since 2000. Two tons of the fertilizer were mixed with diesel fuel to create a bomb placed inside a rental truck that detonated in front of the building. One is by some type detonation or initiation because the storage comes in contact with explosive mixture. The vehicle was packed with nearly 2,300kg of ammonium nitrate fertiliser mixed with fuel oil and attached to blasting caps. It also destroyed Texas City in 1947 and the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN), prepared from ammonium nitrate and calcium carbonate, is used in some cases as an alternative to ammonium nitrate. The energy of the detonation wave causes the ammonium nitrate to vaporise - becoming a gas in an instant. But if added to a fuel source, and subjected to intense stresses like heat and pressure, it can explode. Videos posted online from the Beirut waterfront on Aug. 4 showed an epic disaster unfold with terrifying speed. Smoke rising after the explosion in Beirut. The S.S. Grandcamp—carrying ammonium nitrate, fuel, and ammunition—arrived at the Houston-area port with smoke spewing from its cargo hold. Die Explosion war noch im 300 Kilometer entfernten München zu hören. Explosions of ammonium nitrate, involving relatively small quantities, have occurred during the preparation of nitrous oxide. The site, which belonged to … While ammonium nitrate can in fact put out a fire, if the chemical itself is contaminated, for example with oil, it becomes highly explosive. Though ammonium nitrate was first synthesized in 1659 by German chemist Johann Rudolf Glauber, it wasn’t used in explosives until World War I, when weapon makers mixed it with TNT (aka dynamite) to make cheaper bombs. Lebanon explosions: Ammonium nitrate - Fertilizer behind many industrial accidents Lebanon explosion: Massive Beirut blast kills more than 70, injures thousands The top devices for e-learning It is many times larger than the most powerful conventional airdropped bomb in the U.S. arsenal, which was used in combat for the first time in 2017. Perhaps the closest comparison to Beirut's explosion, in terms of scale, is a blast in Texas City in 1947, which was caused by 2,300 US tons (about 2,087 metric tons) of ammonium nitrate. That partly depends on the enforcement of safety regulations, which can vary by country. If the name sounds familiar it's because the chemical is notorious. In 1921, about 4,500 tonnes of ammonium nitrate caused an explosion at a plant in Oppau, Germany, killing more than 500 people The deadliest industrial accident in … Reconstructing exactly what went wrong in Beirut will be difficult, but Chavez says officials should look for evidence of improper storage, confinement, contamination, lack of ventilation, and potential sources of ignition. Add enough of the oxidizer to a fire, and it will trigger an explosion. In 1947, an explosion in Texas City, Texas, killed at least 581 people and wounded 3,500 after two cargo ships carrying ammonium nitrate caught fire. The explosion in Beirut is far from the first time something disastrous has happened as a result of ammonium nitrate being stored improperly. Hence, the standard ammonium nitrate explosive mixture is termed ANFO, for an “ammonium nitrate fuel oil” mixture. Moreover, the decomposition of ammonium nitrate can create byproducts known as nitrogen oxides, which are known to cause respiratory distress. The decomposition temperature of pure ammonium nitrate is 170 °C, but recently Gunawan and Zhang [6] calculated that an intimate mixture of ammonium nitrate and pyrite can decompose at temperatures as low as 50 °C in blast holes more than 0.2 m in diameter. White smoke billowing from a fire burning out of control in a warehouse near towering grain silos gave way to a massive explosion of reddish-black smoke. Injuries surpassed more than 5,000; the blast destroyed 500 homes and the smoke from it billowed for days. It has some military applications as well. “Plastics, for example, paint, and other organic materials that completely or partially burned—all the building materials that became dust.”, The deadly history of ammonium nitrate, the explosive linked to the Beirut blast, Photograph by Anwar AMRO, AFP via Getty Images. Seventy-five years later, National Geographic revisits the elusive horror of Hiroshima. The force of the ammonium nitrate explosion is provided by the rapid generation of gas as it breaks down. The scale of the damage — from the epicenter of the explosion at the port of Beirut to the windows blown out kilometers (miles) away — resembles other blasts involving the chemical compound commonly used … It was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in recent history, according to Brian Castner, lead weapons investigator for Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Team. There are also longer-term effects to consider. This week, a massive explosion involving ammonium nitrate rocked the city of Beirut, sending shock waves through the media.. Nearby stores of … There were 2,750 tons of the fertilizer in the Beirut warehouse, roughly equivalent to 1,155 tons of TNT, which would produce a large enough blast wave to destroy most buildings within around 800 feet, and would shatter glass far beyond a range of 1.25 miles. Two days later, the death toll rose to at least 130 people with another 5,000 injured. If mixed with ingredients like fuel or some other contaminants, or because of some other external factors, it can be very explosive. Although we do not know exactly what happened yet in Beirut, the sheer size of the collected ammonium nitrate offers some clues. Ammonium nitrate is the ammonium salt derived from nitric acid, a corrosive substance which is toxic when inhaled. “It’s the biggest explosion in an urban area in decades,” he said. Ammonium nitrate, by itself, is relatively harmless. Former justice minister and ex-Internal Security Forces head Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi said Thursday that he has testified before Judge Fadi Sawwan that Iran had sent the ammonium nitrate shipment that eventually caused the August 4 catastrophic explosion at Beirut’s port. It also destroyed Texas City in 1947 and the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Since 1916, the chemical has been responsible for at … (Seventy-five years later, National Geographic revisits the elusive horror of Hiroshima.). But David Chavez, an explosives scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, doubts that scenario. Die Explosion des Oppauer Stickstoffwerkes ereignete sich am 21. Such investigations may take time. Ammonium nitrate, which is used in fertilizers and bomb making, is a salt made from ammonium and nitric acid, and it is highly explosive. And just five years ago, an estimated 800 tons of ammonium nitrate fueled a warehouse explosion that leveled part of a port in the Chinese city of Tianjin, killing 173. The more ammonium nitrate… There were 2600 tonnes of ammonium nitrate on board. The blast filled Beirut’s air with particulate matter, one of the most common forms of air pollution. An ammonium nitrate explosion produces massive amounts of nitrogen oxides. Nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) is a red, bad-smelling gas. powerful explosion that devastated the city. The monster explosion that destroyed a good bit of Beirut was caused by the detonation of more than 2,700 tons of the fertilizer ammonium nitrate – a ghastly amount of one seriously scary chemical. Lebanese authorities are blaming the incident on more than 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate, a substance commonly used in fertilizers as well as in explosives for mining and construction projects. Here is the information he has gathered about the explosion in Beirut. But when placed under stress of heat and pressure, it acts like a bomb. Documents unearthed by Al Jazeera say the ammonium nitrate arrived in Beirut aboard a Russian-owned cargo ship after the vessel experienced mechanical problems at sea. Ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse linked to catastrophic Beirut explosion By Helen Regan , Tamara Qiblawi, Ghazi Balkiz, Ben Wedeman and Luke McGee, CNN Updated 0857 GMT (1657 HKT) August 6, 2020 Videos captured the toll of the deadly blast in Beirut that killed dozens of people and injured thousands. Nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) is a red, bad-smelling gas. By contrast, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945 had a yield of at least 13,000 tons of TNT. Bags containing ammonium nitrate fertilizer are dispalyed in an agricultural trader in Vieillevigne, France, October 7, 2016. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/08/deadly-history-ammonium-nitrate-explosive-linked-to-beirut-blast.html, math pioneered in the 1940s to infer the atomic bomb’s yield. The gas released from the decomposing fertiliser is what drives the explosion. In 2013, ammonium nitrate caused a deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. All rights reserved. Blast calculations suggest that at sea level, an explosion like Beirut’s would require about 1,000 tons of ammonium nitrate. Lebanon was already dealing with political and financial woes, due in part to the Syrian migration crisis and the coronavirus pandemic. It’s known to predispose people to the worst effects of respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. It was used by white supremacists to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Okla. in 1995. Beirut mayor Marwan Abboud told Agence France-Presse that 300,000 people are unable to return to their homes, as the damage covered half the city and could cost up to $15 billion to repair. Stored ammonium nitrate is a major fire hazard . While it is difficult to precisely calibrate the force of the Beirut explosion, the U.S. military offers a formula that allows bomb technicians a quick way to calculate the power of a blast with just paper and pencil, by converting the weight of a known quantity of explosives to that of TNT. According to the Lebanese government, about 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer was stored in a warehouse on the Beirut waterfront and caught fire, later exploding. Damaged areas outside of the port of Beirut on Wednesday. John Ismay was a bomb disposal officer in the U.S. Navy before he became a reporter for The Times Magazine’s At War section. While these alternatives have helped, it is important to note that unintended impurities in the manufacturing process may reduce its stability or facilitate explosion. Ammonium nitrate was also involved in that explosion. Since 1916, the chemical has been responsible for at least 30 disasters, some accidental and some intentional. “All kinds of other materials probably ignited and burned,” says Beaudoin. Chinese authorities claimed the first explosion had been triggered after the heat of summer caused a highly flammable compound called nitrocellulose to spontaneously catch fire. Many Americans were introduced to the dangers of ammonium nitrate from the destruction of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Okla. by white supremacists in 1995. What detonated the explosive compound remains unclear—but the Beirut blast is not the first time ammonium nitrate has led to calamity. The colossal explosion in Lebanon’s capital this week was apparently caused when more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate detonated. In 1947, an explosion in Texas City, Texas, killed at least 581 people and wounded 3,500 after two cargo ships carrying ammonium nitrate caught fire. Given that these back-of-the-envelope calculations come with a wide margin of error, the estimate is consistent with the 2,750 tons that Lebanese officials say was stored by the port. Ammonium nitrate was involved in the 1947 Texas City disaster, one of the largest industrial explosions in history. Ammonium Nitrate consumption is broken down as 78 percent for fertilizer applications and 22 percent for explosives. Lebanon explosion: What is ammonium nitrate, which authorities claim to be behind the blast AFP Washington, August 05, 2020 08:54 IST Updated: August 05, … Ammonium nitrate as an explosive. When combined with fuel oils, ammonium nitrate creates a potent explosive widely used by the construction industry, but also by insurgent groups like the Taliban for improvised explosives. The chemicals reportedly have been sitting by the docks since 2013. Other health issues, akin to those seen after 9/11, may emerge given the widespread destruction to buildings and roads. 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