Beirut Explosion: How Ammonium Nitrate Creates Such Destructive Explosions

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The devastating explosion at a port in Beirut, which killed more than 100 and injured at least 4,000, is said to have originated from a storage unit containing large amounts of ammonium nitrate, according to the report published on August 4th.

While the first explosion lit a fire, the second enveloped the sky in an apocalyptic mushroom cloud. And it sent a shock wave that rippled across the city, flattening buildings and injuring thousands of people.

Ammonium nitrate used in fertilizer and bomb-making is a salt made of ammonium and nitric acid and is highly explosive. More ammonium nitrate or NH4-NO3 increases the explosive capacity.

It has been reported that there is a lot of ammonium nitrate in the port: Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said that since 2014, more than 2,700 metric tons or 2,900 tons of ammonium nitrate has been stored in the port.

Diab also said the port authorities warned that storing too many explosive chemicals in the port was dangerous.

Ammonium Nitrate is often added to increase the nitrogen content of manure. It is relatively inexpensive to manufacture under most conditions. This makes the chemical an alternative to more expensive nitrogen sources.

However, the Ammonium Nitrate compound is obtained by compounding ammonium and nitrate radical. The most known usage area is agricultural fertilization. It is also a powerful explosive

The more practical meaning of this is that it increases the combustion of the fuels by increasing the oxygen available for these fuels. To initiate the reaction, ammonium nitrate must come into contact with an open flame or another ignition source. Experts in the Beirut incident suggest it is associated with fireworks.

When a reaction occurs, ammonium nitrate explodes violently.

This explosive force from the Beirut explosion triggered a shock wave rippling across the city.

The orange mushroom cloud that erupted immediately after the explosion could be attributed to the toxic nitrogen dioxide gas generated by nitrates, The Associated Press reported.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a very toxic gas. It occurs as a result of the burning of fossil fuels, namely Gas, Coal, and Oil. Therefore, it is difficult to detect at low concentrations. As a result of inhaling this gas, symptoms such as headache and dizziness occur.

Ammonium nitrate is not the first in fatal disasters. The deadliest industrial accident in US history occurred in the port of Texas City, Texas in 1947. A carelessly thrown cigarette butt started a fire on a ship carrying about 2,300 tons (2,086,000 kg) of ammonium nitrate packaged in paper bags.

When the chemical exploded, it caused an explosion powerful enough to hit the ground in Galveston, Texas, 16 kilometers away.

This explosion caused a chain reaction when a nearby ship, carrying ammonium nitrate, exploded, setting fire to chemical tanks and oil refineries near the port. An estimated 581 people died in the disaster.

Experts believe the blast came from a spark that could ignite fireworks stored in the port, The Associated Press reported.

Due to its danger and potential use by terrorists, ammonium nitrate is strictly regulated in most places.

According to NBC News, in 2011 the Department of Homeland Security created rules limiting the sale of the compound used as an explosive in the construction and mining industries.