Many people who watched the video of Tuesday’s blast in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, said they had never seen such a horrific blast in their lives. The explosion took place in a warehouse, where a large quantity of a special chemical was stored, called Ammonium nitrate.
As can be seen in the video, the first was an explosion from which a coil of white smoke rose into the sky. People started recording it on their mobile phones. Just then a second explosion occurred in front of their eyes. It first creates a huge fireball, then a gust of wind creates a frog-shaped umbrella of water and a white cloud of steam, which disappears in a matter of seconds. Then it was seen that a coil of red smoke was rising. The BBC says the whole thing happened in just four seconds.
Ammonium nitrate Explosion
It is clear from the red smoke that there was an explosion of Ammonium nitrate. And it’s a chemical that is mainly used for the production of fertilizers. It is also used in many other industries. It is also one of the components of explosives used in mines. But ammonium nitrate itself is not an explosive, but in certain cases it can turn into an explosion, says Philip Ingram, a former British intelligence officer. It is called ‘oxidizer’ which means that it pulls more oxygen into the fire and helps the fire to burn.
Gabriel da Silva, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Melbourne, told The Guardian that ammonium nitrate can be difficult to ignite or explode. However Dr. Silva, said his idea was that the ammonium nitrate had somehow become contaminated. Maybe it comes in contact with oil or something else and that is the reason for this explosion. It acts as a highly active explosive when in contact with fire. And when it explodes, toxic gases like nitrogen oxides and ammonia are emitted from ‘ammonium nitrate’.
An explosion that has happened before
An explosion of ‘Ammonium nitrate‘ on April 16, 194 in Texas, USA killed 500 people. Four thousand people were injured. The bomber struck shortly after noon in the port city of Texas, when unloading 3000 tons of ammonium nitrate from a ship. The whole dock area was destroyed. Several other ships in the vicinity have been on fire for several days.
Even two small planes flying in the sky were destroyed. The eruption caused a 15-foot-high tidal wave in the sea. Many houses were destroyed and two thousand people became homeless.
A devastating fire and explosion at a warehouse in the Chinese city of Tianjin in August 2015 killed more than 170 people. In addition to ‘Ammonium nitrate’, there was storage of hazardous chemicals such as potassium nitrate and sodium cyanide in multiple warehouses.
According to the Chinese authorities, due to the hot weather, a flammable chemical called nitrocellulose first caught fire on its own. The fire spread to the warehouse of ammonium nitrate and caused a huge explosion. The situation became more dire when firefighters accidentally tried to extinguish the chemical fire with water.