So what is ammonium nitrate, why is it explosive and why do we use it? The colossal explosion in Lebanon’s capital this week was apparently caused when more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate detonated. Al 2 (SO 4) 3 + 3 Ba(NO 3) 2 → 2 Al(NO 3) 3 + 3 BaSO 4. The US Environmental Protection Agency, in conjunction with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives lists a number of statutes and regulations involved in the manufacturing, processing and storage of ammonium nitrate. The research on an effect of aluminium contents on detonation characteristics of ammonium nitrate explosives was carried out. It's not clear what else may have been ignited or exploded in the blast -- or what was stored at the docks -- but Prime Minister Diab is expected to make this information known "soon," according to The Guardian. 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. After the fireball erupts in the video above, you can immediately see the shock wave expanding away from the blast. Under normal conditions, the chemical is highly stable. The chemicals reportedly have been sitting by the docks since 2013. According to Lebanon's Interior Minister, 2750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate went up in yesterday's blast. In Australia, the storage and use of ammonium nitrate is monitored to prevent these types of explosions occurring, Kaiser said. A giant explosion occurs during the loading of fertilizer onto the freighter Grandcamp at a pier in Texas City, Texas, on April 16, 1947. 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. He has also announced that Wednesday will be a national day of mourning in the country and the port and surrounding region has been declared a disaster zone. But the compound can contribute to explosions because it belongs to a chemical class known as oxidizers. Ammonium nitrate would only explode on its own if its temperature was rapidly raised to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Ammonium nitrate, which is used in fertilizers and bomb making, is a salt made from ammonium and nitric acid, and it is highly explosive. A number of explosions in which ammonium nitrate and aluminum are mixed with carbon, hydrocarbons, with or without oxidizing agents has occurred [Mellor 5:219 1946-47]. “It’s relatively difficult to make pure ammonium nitrate go off unless you add things to it and cook it in a giant fire,” says Davin Piercey, a chemist at Purdue University. Indian Regulation For Ammonium Nitrate . The blast, which rattled entire buildings and broke glass, was felt across the city. The blast registered as magnitude 3.3 on the Richter scale, and caused devastation usually associated with major earthquakes. 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. 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. But the chemical has a more nefarious use -- as an explosive. View the product label for Aluminum Nitrate 60% Solution from Mineral Research and Development. The chemical compound was used to make explosives for the … :: Bishopsgate in the City of London was hit with a one-tonne fertiliser bomb by the Provisional IRA in April 1993. 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. Two explosions are said to have rocked the port. Beirut explosion: How ammonium nitrate caused deadly blast in Lebanon. It can explode after exposure to contaminants or fuel oil and then heated, which sets off a cascade of reactions. Ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse linked to catastrophic Beirut explosion Beirut was declared a "disaster city" by authorities on Wednesday, in the wake of a … Like us on Facebook to see similar stories, Disneyland cancels its annual pass program, Lawyer who handled 'Hong Kong 12' case loses legal licence. The massive explosions that killed at least 73 people and injured more than 3,700 others Tuesday evening in the Port of Beirut was caused by “materials … Fireworks and ammonium nitrate appear to have been the fuel that ignited a massive explosion that rocked the Lebanese capital of Beirut, experts and videos of the blast … Ammonium nitrate was also used in the 1995 Oklahoma City terror bombing that killed 168 people and the 2011 Oslo bombing that killed eight people. 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 blast filled Beirut’s air with particulate matter, one of the most common forms of air pollution. The Associated Press contributed to this article. © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society, © 2015- 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. Aluminium nitrate may also be prepared a metathesis reaction between aluminium sulfate and a nitrate salt with a suitable cation such as barium, strontium, calcium, silver, or lead. The explosive potential of ammonium nitrate is well understood and has been used in numerous terrorist attacks including the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. The stockpile had … “There’s a massive amount of energy given off very quickly,” says Stephen Beaudoin, a chemical engineer also at Purdue University. Microsoft may earn an Affiliate Commission if you purchase something through recommended links in this article. "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. It's also an explosive compound and is used around the world in mining and construction operations requiring detonations. Lebanon’s prime minister, Hassan Diab, said … The blast was likely caused by the detonation of more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been stored at the dock since being confiscated from a … Lebanese Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi said it appeared that stocks of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be used in bombmaking, had exploded. 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. 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. Cook's greatest commercial explosives invention was formulated in December of 1956, when he created a new blasting agent using an unusual mixture of ammonium nitrate, aluminum powder, and water. An explosion rocked Beirut on August 4. The safety and efficiency of this new explosive were … When something burns, it requires oxygen—that’s why fire extinguishers can easily put out flames by smothering them. Facilities holding high quantities of the chemical are subject to inspection by the Department of Homeland Security. This also requires pressure to build up in a confined space, without being able to dissipate. A ship in the harbor of Texas City, Texas, carrying approximately 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate caught fire, supposedly via a discarded cigarette, causing a series of explosions that killed 581 people. blast and producer gas furnaces produce wastewater streams contam-inated with cyanide mater1als. An explosion of ammonium nitrate was responsible for the worst industrial accident in US history in 1947. In 2015, 173 people were killed in the port city of Tianjin, China, when a warehouse containing ammonium nitrate exploded. Lebanon blast: Ammonium nitrate behind many industrial accidents. As Lebanon's investigation into the devastating blast in Beirut continues, officials have pointed to a possible cause: A massive shipment of agricultural … Measurements of detonation velocity were performed. All rights reserved. Moreover, the decomposition of ammonium nitrate can create byproducts known as nitrogen oxides, which are known to cause respiratory distress. 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. 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. “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. Connect with friends faster than ever with the new Facebook app. the apocalyptic extent of the destruction. Though the causative agent of the larger, second explosion appears to be ammonium nitrate, the full scale of the devastation in Lebanon isn't yet completely understood and an investigation will be performed. 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. Though Jeffrey Lewis, an arms control expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, estimates it’s probably closer to 400 tons. "The idea in making any sort of explosive is to go from a high energy compound to a low energy one," explains Ian Rae, a professor at the University of Melbourne. When heated to above 170 degrees Fahrenheit, ammonium nitrate begins to undergo decomposition. Keith Craig of the Stockton Community Action Group said it … e.g. What leveled Beirut on Tuesday sounds eerily similar to descriptions of a massive 1947 explosion in Texas City, Texas. Ammonium nitrate, which Lebanese authorities have said was the cause of the Beirut blast, is an odourless crystalline substance commonly used as … 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 is the fertilizer compound that can be used in explosives, said John Goodpaster, who researches explosives at Indiana at University-Purdue University Indianapolis. The blast itself was heard up to 25 miles south of the city, and many streets in Beirut are now paved with broken glass. But with rapid heating or detonation, a chemical reaction can occur that converts ammonium nitrate to nitrogen and oxygen gas and water vapor. "It is generally kept under controlled conditions and modified volumes to minimize chances of explosion," says Brent Kaiser, a plant biologist at the University of Sydney. 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. 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. The accidental detonation of ammonium nitrate has resulted in a number of accidents in the last century. 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. Measured using this method, onlookers estimated the blast was roughly equivalent to 400 to 3,000 tons of TNT, an explosive material that’s also used as a unit to measure the destructiveness of explosions. A mixture of ammonium nitrate and acetic acid ignites when warmed, especially if concentrated [Von Schwartz p. 322 1918]. Plants rely on photosynthesis, converting sunlight to energy using chlorophyll. Lebanon was already dealing with political and financial woes, due in part to the Syrian migration crisis and the coronavirus pandemic. Such investigations may take time. But for the compound to figure in an explosion of this magnitude, chemists and explosives experts say a lot has to go wrong. (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. The huge change in phase creates a shockwave.”. “All kinds of other materials probably ignited and burned,” says Beaudoin. The S.S. Grandcamp—carrying ammonium nitrate, fuel, and ammunition—arrived at the Houston-area port with smoke spewing from its cargo hold. When heated, ammonium nitrate decomposes non-explosively into gases of oxygen, nitrogen, and water vapor; however, it can be induced to decompose explosively by … Blast calculations suggest that at sea level, an explosion like Beirut’s would require about 1,000 tons of ammonium nitrate. Any carbon-rich fuel—paper, cardboard, or even sugar—can pair with ammonium nitrate to produce more intense energy. Other health issues, akin to those seen after 9/11, may emerge given the widespread destruction to buildings and roads. The ensuing explosion killed some 600 people, including everyone on the dock and ship. On paper, ammonium nitrate is highly regulated in India. Reports suggest over 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate detonated. When combined with fuel and oil, ammonium nitrate creates a potent explosive widely used in the construction industry. It’s known to predispose people to the worst effects of respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. By contrast, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945 had a yield of at least 13,000 tons of TNT. Aluminium nitrate is a strong oxidizing agent. Two days later, the death toll rose to at least 130 people with another 5,000 injured. “It will oxidize that fuel very rapidly, create a huge amount of gas, and give off a huge amount of heat. The US cybersecurity and infrastructure security agency has also proposed a program to closely regulate the sale of transfer of ammonium nitrate. Two years before … Injuries surpassed more than 5,000; the blast destroyed 500 homes and the smoke from it billowed for days. Some of it decomposes slowly creating toxic gases like nitrogen oxides. It's these gases that are responsible for the red-brown plume of smoke seen in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion, Rae said. The catastrophic explosion at Beirut port on Tuesday evening (August 4) that has so far killed at least 100 people and injured around 4,000, with an unknown number feared trapped under rubble was, according to the government of Lebanon, caused by over 2,700 tonnes of … … ;.j SAFETY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR AMMONIUM NITRATE-BASED BLASTING AGENTS Revision of Information Circular 8179 by G, H. Damon, 1 C. M. Mason, 2 N, E. Hanna, 3 and D. R, Forshey4 ABSTRACT Since 1963, Bureau of Mines Information Circular 8179 has served the min­ The blast in St Mary Axe killed three people, including a 15-year-old girl. Piling up large amounts of ammonium nitrate allows more heat to be contained for longer when a mixture burns. See active ingredients, product application, restrictions, and more. The Air Force in its routine missim ... Silver nitrate Aluminum Cadmium Chlorine Chloride ion Chl.Jrate ion Copper Cyanide ( ion} Cyanogen chloride Cyanate ( ion} Carbon dioxide Carbonate ion Chromium Iron Then, the ammonium nitrate cargo detonated in a blast so powerful it shook the ground for hundreds of miles and registered as an earthquake … Cell phone videos also show the shockwave and dust cloud rushing through the portside buildings, leaving behind scenes of carnage in the Lebanese capital. 2021 National Geographic Partners, LLC. Ammonium nitrate is an odourless crystalline substance that is naturally stable and used in fertilisers, but when mixed with other chemicals such as oil can create a potent explosive. Uses. Seventy-five years later, National Geographic revisits the elusive horror of Hiroshima. Since 1916, the chemical has been responsible for at least 30 disasters, some accidental and some intentional. The telltale signs of … Even a small amount of contamination would have made the ammonium nitrate more likely to detonate. 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. There are also longer-term effects to consider. Compared to most combustible materials, ammonium nitrate itself is not exceptionally explosive. In 2015, explosions partly caused by the detonation of around 800 tons of ammonium nitrate rocked the Beijing port of Tianjin, killing 173 people. The likely cause of the huge blast in Beirut on Tuesday appears to have been the highly reactive chemical ammonium nitrate. A ship in the harbor of Texas City, Texas, carrying approximately 2,300 tons of … A more likely explanation is that the ammonium nitrate in Beirut was not alone inside the warehouse. Ammonium Nitrate is used by the military around the world as an explosive as well as in terrorist activities like the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, killing 168 people. In the aftermath of the blast, videos show plumes of red-brown smoke and the apocalyptic extent of the destruction, with buildings leveled for miles. Annually, the world produces and stores enormous amounts of ammonium nitrate—more than 20 million tons in 2017. "This is clearly a very significant explosion, and the reported number of deaths is likely to be far higher than currently identified," said David Caldicott, a senior clinical lecturer in medicine at the Australian National University. Add enough of the oxidizer to a fire, and it will trigger an explosion. Lebanese Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi, in comments to a local TV station, made no mention of ignited fireworks but said it appeared the blast was caused by the detonation of more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been stored in a warehouse at the dock ever since it was confiscated from a cargo ship in 2014. Moisture in the air is quickly condensed, forming a white sphere around the explosion zone. According to a report by Al Jazeera, Lebanon Prime Minister Hassan Diab said the explosion was fueled by a stockpile of over 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate, confiscated and stored for approximately six years at the port. An explosion of ammonium nitrate was responsible for the worst industrial accident in US history in 1947. 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. "The energy given out is what you get as explosive power.". 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