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AFP
August 6, 2020

Ammonium nitrate: fertilizer behind many industrial accidents

World

AFP
August 6, 2020

WASHINGTON: Ammonium nitrate, which Lebanese authorities have said caused the devastating Beirut blast, is an odorless crystalline substance commonly used as a fertilizer and has caused numerous industrial explosions over the decades. These notably include one at a Texas fertilizer plant in 2013 that killed 15 and was ruled deliberate, and a North Korean railway blast that left 161 dead in 2004. When combined with fuel oils, ammonium nitrate creates a potent explosive widely used in the construction industry, but also by insurgent groups such as the Taliban for improvised explosives. Two tonnes of it were used to create the bomb in the 1995 Oklahoma City attack that destroyed a federal building, leaving 168 people dead. Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate that had been stored for years in a Beirut portside warehouse had exploded, killing dozens of people and causing widespread damage to the capital. Ammonium nitrate was among the chemicals stored in a warehouse in China´s northern city of Tianjin that ignited in 2015, triggering a blast that killed at least 165 people and caused over $1 billion in damages. An investigation found improper storage of the chemicals was to blame. In agriculture, ammonium nitrate fertilizer is applied in granule form and quickly dissolves under moisture, allowing nitrogen — which is key to plant growth — to be released into the soil.