After footage of the devastating explosion in Beirut, Lebanon began circulating all over the internet, many have questioned what caused the blast that took 135 lives and 5,000 casualties within just over two days of its occurrence.
According to CNN, the Lebanon government recently came forward to claim that the catastrophe was caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that was poorly stored in Beirut port warehouse, a location that is dangerously close to the city’s shopping and nightlife districts, without proper safety measures put in place.
But what exactly is this chemical and could it have led to such a destructive outcome?
What is it?
Ammonium nitrate is an industrial chemical that is typically used in fertilisers and as an explosive for mining. It is extremely dangerous if contaminated, mixed with fuel, or stored unsafely, as reported by Reuters.
At high temperatures, ammonium nitrate can violently decompose on its own. This will result in a process that creates gasses including nitrogen oxides and water vapour. And when these gases release rapidly, that causes an explosion.
In fact, explosions caused by this chemical is comparable to that of nuclear bombs, “On a scale, this explosion is scaled down from a nuclear bomb rather than up from a conventional bomb,” said Roland Alford, managing director of Alford Technologies, a British company that specialises in the disposal of explosive ordnance. “This is probably up there among the biggest non-nuclear explosions of all time.”
Not the first time
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that ammonium nitrate was linked to deadly industrial explosions. In 1947, a blast in Texas City caused an explosion that killed 400 people and damaged more than 1,000 buildings, reports CNN.
Another occasion in which more than 100 people were found dead in the port city of Tianjin happened in 2015 when a warehouse that contained several hundred tons of dangerous chemicals, ammonium nitrate included, caused a series of large scale explosions.
While we don’t know for sure that the chemical was the sole cause of the Beirut blast, having such a large stockpile of ammonium nitrate incorrectly stored would have definitely contributed to the tragic circumstances the world witnessed a few days ago.
It is vital for governing authorities all around the world to take note of this crisis and ensure that the storage of such dangerous goods is tightly regulated.
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