Videos posted online from the Beirut waterfront on Aug. 4 showed an epic disaster unfold with terrifying speed. McVeigh left the truck after setting a five-minute fuse to detonate the mixture. powerful explosion that devastated the city. 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. 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 … “The human impact of it is the important thing, and it affected people a dozen kilometers away.”. 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. Fifteen people were killed, more than 160 were injured, and more than 150 buildings were damaged or destroyed. The explosion in Beirut is far from the first time something disastrous has happened as a result of ammonium nitrate being stored improperly. The deadly explosion in Beirut, and the reddish plumes of smoke that followed, showed telltale signs of an ammonium nitrate blast, experts said. 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. Nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) is a red, bad-smelling gas. Calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN), prepared from ammonium nitrate and calcium carbonate, is used in some cases as an alternative to ammonium nitrate. But how can such a chemical cause such a massive and destructive blast? 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 … Cell phone videos also show the shockwave and dust cloud rushing through the portside buildings, leaving behind scenes of carnage in the Lebanese capital. It also destroyed Texas City in 1947 and the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. If subjected to fire in such bulk quantities, and in a semi-contained environment like a warehouse, the potential for detonation is strong. All rights reserved. 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. 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. 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 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. Injuries surpassed more than 5,000; the blast destroyed 500 homes and the smoke from it billowed for days. The gas released from the decomposing fertiliser is what drives the explosion. That partly depends on the enforcement of safety regulations, which can vary by country. It is classified as an oxidiser (Grade 5.1) under the United Nations classification of dangerous goods. “All kinds of other materials probably ignited and burned,” says Beaudoin. Ammonium nitrate appears to be the cause of the huge explosion that has left large parts of Beirut ruined and at least 100 people dead. Explosions of ammonium nitrate, involving relatively small quantities, have occurred during the preparation of nitrous oxide. Aluminum sulfate has also been used as a drying additive for ammonium nitrate. This recent tragedy is devastating, and unfortunately, it’s not the first time this dangerous chemical compound has caused widespread damage. Images from Beirut reveal a … A spherical cloud of water vapor formed as the shock wave raced outward, wrapping around the silos, and disappearing into downtown Beirut. In 2013, ammonium nitrate caused a deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. Hence, the standard ammonium nitrate explosive mixture is termed ANFO, for an “ammonium nitrate fuel oil” mixture. Investigators confirmed that ammonium nitrate was … The captain closed the hold and pumped in pressurized steam. “Ammonium nitrate is derived from the reaction between ammonia and nitric acid. Lebanon was already dealing with political and financial woes, due in part to the Syrian migration crisis and the coronavirus pandemic. But Lebanon's Interior Minister said the blast was a store of about 2,750 tonnes of seized ammonium nitrate blowing up. But if added to a fuel source, and subjected to intense stresses like heat and pressure, it can explode. 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 … Ammonium nitrate as an 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. 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. Pure ammonium nitrate is not an explosive on its own. What Is Ammonium Nitrate, Blamed in the Beirut 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. 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 … 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, … It also destroyed Texas City in 1947 and the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. 2,750 tons of the chemical that had been stored in a Beirut warehouse blew up, killing dozens of people and injuring many more Since 1916, the chemical has been responsible for at least 30 disasters, some accidental and some intentional. It is the main component of explosive used in mining activities all over the world and hasn’t been banned as reported. But the chemical has a more nefarious use -- as an explosive. 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. 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 blast registered as magnitude 3.3 on the Richter scale, and caused devastation usually associated with major earthquakes. An ammonium nitrate explosion produces massive amounts of nitrogen oxides. However, if it is contaminated with impurities, the risk of it detonating increases. The Great Explosion: On April 2, 1916, at 14:20, a factory in Uplees, Faversham, exploded … But the Beirut explosion was far smaller than the 15,000-ton TNT equivalent of the smallest nuclear weapon ever used in war, which was dropped on Hiroshima 75 years ago this Thursday. 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. “As I … Any carbon-rich fuel—paper, cardboard, or even sugar—can pair with ammonium nitrate to produce more intense energy. There are several documented examples of deadly ammonium nitrate fire and explosion incidents in the past, some with large numbers of fatalities like in China in 2015 and in Texas in 1947. Ammonium nitrate is the ammonium salt derived from nitric acid, a corrosive substance which is toxic when inhaled. 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. Lebanese officials say ammonium nitrate, a substance used as fertilizer in agriculture, likely caused the massive explosion in Beirut. 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. The Biggest Ammonium Nitrate Explosions since 2000. 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. Even a small amount of contamination would have made the ammonium nitrate more likely to detonate. The force of the ammonium nitrate explosion is provided by the rapid generation of gas as it breaks down. Ammonium nitrate, which is used in fertilizers and bomb making, is a salt made from ammonium and nitric acid, and it is highly explosive. Yes. The vehicle was packed with nearly 2,300kg of ammonium nitrate fertiliser mixed with fuel oil and attached to blasting caps. 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. But when placed under stress of heat and pressure, it acts like a bomb. (Seventy-five years later, National Geographic revisits the elusive horror of Hiroshima.). If the name sounds familiar it's because the chemical is notorious. The huge change in phase creates a shockwave.”. 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. But David Chavez, an explosives scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, doubts that scenario. An ammonium nitrate explosion produces massive amounts of nitrogen oxides. Ammonium nitrate would only explode on its own if its temperature was rapidly raised to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. 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. Stored ammonium nitrate is a major fire hazard . While ammonium nitrate can in fact put out a fire, if the chemical itself is contaminated, for example with oil, it becomes highly explosive. The chemicals reportedly have been sitting by the docks since 2013. 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 Biggest Ammonium Nitrate Explosions since 2000. The chemical is often used as fertilizer — and in explosives. This week, a massive explosion involving ammonium nitrate rocked the city of Beirut, sending shock waves through the media.. “It’s the biggest explosion in an urban area in decades,” he said. What detonated the explosive compound remains unclear—but the Beirut blast is not the first time ammonium nitrate has led to calamity. Lebanese port officials said they made several requests to the courts to have the stockpile removed, but got no response. 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. On April 17, 2013, an ammonium nitrate explosion occurred at the West Fertilizer Company storage and distribution facility in West, Texas, eighteen miles north of Waco, while emergency services personnel were responding to a fire at the facility. In 2015, disaster struck in Tianjin, China, when a fertilizer explosion killed 165 people at a busy seaport. Although we do not know exactly what happened yet in Beirut, the sheer size of the collected ammonium nitrate offers some clues. 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. 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. There were 2600 tonnes of ammonium nitrate on board. Here is the information he has gathered about the explosion in Beirut. “Ammonium nitrate does not degrade with time under normal storage conditions,” he says. Other health issues, akin to those seen after 9/11, may emerge given the widespread destruction to buildings and roads. It’s known to predispose people to the worst effects of respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. Such investigations may take time. Two days later, the death toll rose to at least 130 people with another 5,000 injured. 2020 National Geographic Partners, LLC. The biggest ammonium nitrate explosion that has taken place was the Texas City explosion on April 16, 1947. Though Jeffrey Lewis, an arms control expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, estimates it’s probably closer to 400 tons. Large quantities of stored ammonium nitrate are regarded as a major fire hazard, with multiple reported cases across the world. 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