Ammonium nitrate, the cause of the explosions in Beirut on Tuesday, is the base of many nitrogenous fertilizers, and has caused several industrial accidents or attacks such as the one committed in 1995 in Oklahoma City, United States, by a white supremacist.
According to Lebanese Prime Minister Hasan Diab, the explosions, which left at least 73 dead and 3,700 heroics, were caused by the detonation of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that were stored in the port of the Lebanese capital.
Ammonium nitrate is a white, odorless salt that is used as the base for many granular nitrogenous fertilizers, aminonitrates, highly soluble in water and purchased by farmers in large bags. They are not combustible products, but oxidants.
Its detonation is possible in medium and high doses and in the presence of combustible substances or intense sources of heat.
Therefore, the storage of ammonium nitrate must follow strict regulations to isolate it from flammable liquids (gasoline, oils, etc.), corrosive liquids, flammable solids or substances that emit heat, among other prohibited substances, according to a technical sheet from the Ministry of Agriculture. French.
Ammonium nitrate has been the protagonist of numerous tragedies – accidental and criminal – in the world.
One of his first accidents left 561 dead in 1921 at a BASF plant in Oppau, Germany.
In France, some 300 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in bulk in a hangar at the AZF chemical plant in Toulouse exploded on September 21, 2001, leaving 31 dead. The deflagration was heard 80 km away.
Also in the United States, a terrible explosion at the West Fertilizer plant, in Texas, killed 15 people in 2013, after an ammonium nitrate deposit exploded due to arson.
The researchers questioned the lack of storage standards for the product at the Texas plant.
Ammonium nitrate can also be used to make explosives. On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh detonated a two-ton fertilizer bomb outside a federal building in Oklahoma City, leaving 168 dead and nearly 700 wounded.