Even a small amount of contamination would have made the ammonium nitrate more likely to detonate. September 1921 im Werk der Badischen Anilin- & Soda-Fabrik in Oppau, das heute zu Ludwigshafen am Rhein gehört. What Is Ammonium Nitrate, Blamed in the Beirut Explosion? 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. What detonated the explosive compound remains unclear—but the Beirut blast is not the first time ammonium nitrate has led to calamity. Measured using this method, onlookers estimated the blast was roughly equivalent to 400 to 3,000 tons of TNT, an explosive material thatâs also used as a unit to measure the destructiveness of explosions. It is the main component of explosive used in mining activities all over the world and hasn’t been banned as reported. But Lebanon's Interior Minister said the blast was a store of about 2,750 tonnes of seized ammonium nitrate blowing up. The explosion in Beirut is far from the first time something disastrous has happened as a result of ammonium nitrate being stored improperly. 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 bombâs yield. 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 human impact of it is the important thing, and it affected people a dozen kilometers away.”. The biggest ammonium nitrate explosion that has taken place was the Texas City explosion on April 16, 1947. The Biggest Ammonium Nitrate Explosions since 2000. 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. The cargo ship Grandcamp was in Texas City harbor being loaded when a fire was detected in the hold. Ammonium nitrate, by itself, is relatively harmless. Two days later, the death toll rose to at least 130 people with another 5,000 injured. Ammonium nitrate as an explosive. The energy of the detonation wave causes the ammonium nitrate to vaporise - becoming a gas in an instant. Auch die Druckwelle aus Beirut sei laut Medienberichten noch im 200 km entfernten Zypern zu spüren gewesen. The ammonium and nitrate molecules break down, and a large amount of oxygen gas is suddenly formed. 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. The colossal explosion in Lebanon’s capital this week was apparently caused when more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate detonated. 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. 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. Videos posted online from the Beirut waterfront on Aug. 4 showed an epic disaster unfold with terrifying speed. It has some military applications as well. An ammonium nitrate explosion produces massive amounts of nitrogen oxides. Annually, the world produces and stores enormous amounts of ammonium nitrateâmore than 20 million tons in 2017. All rights reserved. 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. Lebanese officials say ammonium nitrate, a substance used as fertilizer in agriculture, likely caused the massive explosion in Beirut. Lebanese officials say ammonium nitrate, a substance used as fertilizer in agriculture, likely caused the massive explosion in Beirut. âThereâs a massive amount of energy given off very quickly,â says Stephen Beaudoin, a chemical engineer also at Purdue University. 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. In the United States, the Espionage Act of 1917 gave the Coast Guard strict regulatory oversight of all port facilities — specifically to prevent large explosions such as the one in Beirut. What sparked the explosion is still unknown. 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. 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 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. Hence, the standard ammonium nitrate explosive mixture is termed ANFO, for an “ammonium nitrate fuel oil” mixture. By comparing the blastâs 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. One is by some type detonation or initiation because the storage comes in contact with explosive mixture. The S.S. Grandcampâcarrying ammonium nitrate, fuel, and ammunitionâarrived at the Houston-area port with smoke spewing from its cargo hold. The captain closed the hold and pumped in pressurized steam. 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. Though ammonium nitrate was first synthesized in 1659 by German chemist Johann Rudolf Glauber, it wasnât used in explosives until World War I, when weapon makers mixed it with TNT (aka dynamite) to make cheaper bombs. The blast registered as magnitude 3.3 on the Richter scale, and caused devastation usually associated with major earthquakes. This recent tragedy is devastating, and unfortunately, it’s not the first time this dangerous chemical compound has caused widespread damage. Investigators confirmed that ammonium nitrate was … 2020 National Geographic Partners, LLC. The deadly explosion in Beirut, and the reddish plumes of smoke that followed, showed telltale signs of an ammonium nitrate blast, experts said. If the name sounds familiar it's because the chemical is notorious. 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. 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. McVeigh left the truck after setting a five-minute fuse to detonate the mixture. The chemical is often used as fertilizer — and in explosives. It is classified as an oxidiser (Grade 5.1) under the United Nations classification of dangerous goods. It was carrying 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate, an industrial chemical commonly used around the world as a fertilizer -- and in explosives for mining. But if added to a fuel source, and subjected to intense stresses like heat and pressure, it can explode. Once a reaction is sparked (by some other means) the ammonium nitrate quickly decomposes into… 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 resulting explosion destroyed the entire front facade of the 117 foot structure, killing 168 people. (Seventy-five years later, National Geographic revisits the elusive horror of Hiroshima.). Ammonium nitrate is used in fertilizer and in the mining industry as an explosive to blast rock and move mounds of earth. âItâs relatively difficult to make pure ammonium nitrate go off unless you add things to it and cook it in a giant fire,â says Davin Piercey, a chemist at Purdue University. But when placed under stress of heat and pressure, it acts like a bomb. In 2013, a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, caught fire and exploded, killing 15 people. Ammonium nitrate is the ammonium salt derived from nitric acid, a corrosive substance which is toxic when inhaled. Piling up large amounts of ammonium nitrate allows more heat to be contained for longer when a mixture burns. A spherical cloud of water vapor formed as the shock wave raced outward, wrapping around the silos, and disappearing into downtown Beirut. EPA Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response; Explosion Hazard from Ammonium Nitrate. The force of the ammonium nitrate explosion is provided by the rapid generation of gas as it breaks down. 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. 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. âAmmonium nitrate does not degrade with time under normal storage conditions,â he says. 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. 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. Other health issues, akin to those seen after 9/11, may emerge given the widespread destruction to buildings and roads. 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. The huge explosion that rocked the Lebanese capital on Tuesday is thought to have been caused by ammonium nitrate. 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. It has been the cause of previous industrial accidents, and an ingredient in acts of terrorism as well. If mixed with ingredients like fuel or some other contaminants, or because of some other external factors, it can be very explosive. 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 … 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. Injuries surpassed more than 5,000; the blast destroyed 500 homes and the smoke from it billowed for days. 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. The explosion of large storage can happen primarily in two ways. If subjected to fire in such bulk quantities, and in a semi-contained environment like a warehouse, the potential for detonation is strong. … It was used by white supremacists to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Okla. in 1995. 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 suggest. Compared to most combustible materials, ammonium nitrate itself is not exceptionally explosive. The ensuing explosion killed some 600 people, including everyone on the dock and ship. Explosions of ammonium nitrate, involving relatively small quantities, have occurred during the preparation of nitrous oxide. “As I … Such investigations may take time. The more ammonium nitrate… Ammonium nitrate was involved in the 1947 Texas City disaster, one of the largest industrial explosions in history. 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. Seventy-five years later, National Geographic revisits the elusive horror of Hiroshima. Cell phone videos also show the shockwave and dust cloud rushing through the portside buildings, leaving behind scenes of carnage in the Lebanese capital. What leveled Beirut on Tuesday sounds eerily similar to descriptions of a massive 1947 explosion in Texas City, Texas. 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. 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. This week, a massive explosion involving ammonium nitrate rocked the city of Beirut, sending shock waves through the media.. In 2013, ammonium nitrate caused a deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. Oxidizers do the opposite: They increase the amount of oxygen molecules that concentrate in a space, which helps make other substances more flammable. [screaming] [smaller explosions] [giant blast] [alarms] [alarms] [crying]. Smoke rising after the explosion in Beirut. Although we do not know exactly what happened yet in Beirut, the sheer size of the collected ammonium nitrate offers some clues. 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. “Ammonium nitrate is derived from the reaction between ammonia and nitric acid. 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. 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. 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. Pure ammonium nitrate is not an explosive on its own. Calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN), prepared from ammonium nitrate and calcium carbonate, is used in some cases as an alternative to ammonium nitrate. While ammonium nitrate can in fact put out a fire, if the chemical itself is contaminated, for example with oil, it becomes highly explosive. An explosion of ammonium nitrate was responsible for the worst industrial accident in US history in 1947. Damaged areas outside of the port of Beirut on Wednesday. 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 … 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. 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. 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, … 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. 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. Die Explosion des Oppauer Stickstoffwerkes ereignete sich am 21. Itâs known to predispose people to the worst effects of respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. Videos captured the toll of the deadly blast in Beirut that killed dozens of people and injured thousands. It also destroyed Texas City in 1947 and the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. powerful explosion that devastated the city. 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. 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. If the name sounds familiar it's because the chemical is notorious. The decomposition temperature of pure ammonium nitrate is 170 °C, but recently Gunawan and Zhang  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. 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. âAll kinds of other materials probably ignited and burned,â says Beaudoin. Ammonium nitrate would only explode on its own if its temperature was rapidly raised to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. “It’s the biggest explosion in an urban area in decades,” he said. Since 1916, the chemical has been responsible for at least 30 disasters, some accidental and some intentional. The blast filled Beirutâs air with particulate matter, one of the most common forms of air pollution. Nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) is a red, bad-smelling gas. Nearby stores of … 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. Following the destruction caused by ammonium nitrate exploding at Beirut's port, there are concerns globally about its storage. In 2015, disaster struck in Tianjin, China, when a fertilizer explosion killed 165 people at a busy seaport. Nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) is a red, bad-smelling gas. But how can such a chemical cause such a massive and destructive blast? Lebanese port officials said they made several requests to the courts to have the stockpile removed, but got no response. 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 explosion took place when workers used dynamite to break up ammonium nitrate that was caked together, a common practice at the time, according to Prof. Oxley. The Great Explosion: On April 2, 1916, at 14:20, a factory in Uplees, Faversham, exploded … A large explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 4. This recent tragedy is devastating, and unfortunately, it’s not the first time this dangerous chemical compound has caused widespread damage. âIt will oxidize that fuel very rapidly, create a huge amount of gas, and give off a huge amount of heat. 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. 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. While these alternatives have helped, it is important to note that unintended impurities in the manufacturing process may reduce its stability or facilitate explosion. Beirut officials have identified ammonium nitrate as the base component of Tuesday's explosion. Here is the information he has gathered about the explosion in Beirut. When something burns, it requires oxygenâthatâs why fire extinguishers can easily put out flames by smothering them. 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. By contrast, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945 had a yield of at least 13,000 tons of TNT. But the compound can contribute to explosions because it belongs to a chemical class known as oxidizers. Moreover, the decomposition of ammonium nitrate can create byproducts known as nitrogen oxides, which are known to cause respiratory distress. There are also longer-term effects to consider. Large quantities of stored ammonium nitrate are regarded as a major fire hazard, with multiple reported cases across the world. The Biggest Ammonium Nitrate Explosions since 2000. The blast, which rattled entire buildings and broke glass, was felt across the city. Ammonium nitrate, which is used in fertilizers and bomb making, is a salt made from ammonium and nitric acid, and it is highly explosive. Am Morgen um 7:32 Uhr kam es zu zwei kurz aufeinanderfolgenden Explosionen von etwa 400 Tonnen Ammoniumsulfatnitrat, einem Düngemittel. © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society, © 2015- Ammonium nitrate stored at site of massive Beirut explosion: Officials At least 70 are dead and more than 3,500 are injured, authorities say. Ammonium nitrate: what is it and why did it cause the blast in Beirut? The vehicle was packed with nearly 2,300kg of ammonium nitrate fertiliser mixed with fuel oil and attached to blasting caps. Ammonium nitrate, which is used in fertilizers and bomb making, is a salt made from ammonium and nitric acid, and it is highly explosive. 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 David Chavez, an explosives scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, doubts that scenario. Burning ammonium nitrate in an open field, for instance, isn't likely to result in an explosion, Rae said. While intended to foil attempted sabotage, the regulations tightly control movements and storage of hazardous materials like ammonium nitrate for reasons of general public safety. In ordinary circumstances, ammonium nitrate is fertilizer. The chemical compound ammonium nitrate is believed to have been the cause of the devastating explosion in Beirut on Tuesday. Any carbon-rich fuelâpaper, cardboard, or even sugarâcan pair with ammonium nitrate to produce more intense energy. 559 Menschen wurden durch die Explosionen getötet und … Blast calculations suggest that at sea level, an explosion like Beirutâs would require about 1,000 tons of ammonium nitrate. A more likely explanation is that the ammonium nitrate in Beirut was not alone inside the warehouse. Images from Beirut reveal a … Stored ammonium nitrate is a major fire hazard . Though Jeffrey Lewis, an arms control expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, estimates itâs probably closer to 400 tons. Die Explosion war noch im 300 Kilometer entfernten München zu hören. "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. 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 gas released from the decomposing fertiliser is what drives the explosion. A devastating explosion of an enormous amount of ammonium nitrate killed more than 200 people and injured at least 6,000 at the port of Beirut on the … There were 2600 tonnes of ammonium nitrate on board. 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 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. 2,750 tons of the chemical that had been stored in a Beirut warehouse blew up, killing dozens of people and injuring many more However, if it is contaminated with impurities, the risk of it detonating increases. That partly depends on the enforcement of safety regulations, which can vary by country. What detonated the explosive compound remains unclearâbut the Beirut blast is not the first time ammonium nitrate has led to calamity. The chemicals reportedly have been sitting by the docks since 2013. The huge change in phase creates a shockwave.â. But for the compound to figure in an explosion of this magnitude, chemists and explosives experts say a lot has to go wrong. 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. Ammonium nitrate was also involved in that explosion. 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. 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. Fifteen people were killed, more than 160 were injured, and more than 150 buildings were damaged or destroyed. Since 1916, the chemical has been responsible for at … In 2013, ammonium nitrate caused a deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. This week, a massive explosion involving ammonium nitrate rocked the city of Beirut, sending shock waves through the media.. The site, which belonged to … 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. 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. It also destroyed Texas City in 1947 and the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Ammonium Nitrate consumption is broken down as 78 percent for fertilizer applications and 22 percent for explosives. 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