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Lebanon explosion: What is ammonium nitrate, which authorities claim to be behind the blast

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Ammonium nitrate, which Lebanese authorities have mentioned was the explanation for the Beirut blast, is an odourless crystalline substance generally used as a fertiliser that has been the explanation for quite a few industrial explosions over the a long time.

These embody notably at a Texas fertiliser plant in 2013 that killed 15 and was dominated deliberate, and one other at a chemical plant in Toulouse, France in 2001 that killed 31 individuals however was unintended.

When mixed with gasoline oils, ammonium nitrate creates a potent explosive extensively utilized by the development business, but additionally by rebel teams like the Taliban for improvised explosives.

It was additionally a part in the bomb behind the 1995 Oklahoma City assault.

In agriculture, ammonium nitrate fertiliser is utilized in granule kind and shortly dissolves below moisture, permitting nitrogen — which is key to plant progress — to be launched into the soil.

Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab mentioned 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate that had been saved for years in a Beirut portside warehouse had blown up, killing dozens of individuals and inflicting unprecedented injury to the Lebanese capital.

However, below regular storage situations and with out very excessive warmth, it is troublesome to ignite ammonium nitrate, Jimmie Oxley, a chemistry professor at the University of Rhode Island, advised AFP.

“If you look at the video (of the Beirut explosion), you saw the black smoke, you saw the red smoke, that was an incomplete reaction,” she mentioned.

“I am assuming that there was a small explosion that instigated the reaction of the ammonium nitrate — whether that small explosion was an accident or something on purpose I haven’t heard yet.”

That’s as a result of ammonium nitrate is an oxidizer — it intensifies combustion and permits different substances to ignite extra readily, however is not itself very flamable.

For these causes, there are usually very strict guidelines about the place it may well be saved: for instance, it should be avoided fuels and sources of warmth.

In reality, many nations in the European Union require that calcium carbonate to be added to ammonium nitrate to create calcium ammonium nitrate, which is safer.

In the United States, rules have been tightened considerably after the Oklahoma City assault.

Under the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards, for instance, services that retailer greater than 900 kilograms of ammonium nitrate are topic to inspections.

Despite its risks, Ms. Oxley mentioned legit makes use of of ammonium nitrate in agriculture and development has made it indispensable.

“We wouldn’t have this modern world without explosives, and we wouldn’t feed the population we have today without ammonium nitrate fertiliser,” she mentioned. “We need ammonium nitrate, we just need to pay good attention to what we’re doing with it.”

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