Explainer: Why Is Ammonium Nitrate So Dangerous

Usually produced in small pallets, ammonium nitrate is capable of self-combustion in sufficiently high temperatures.


NSFW    BEIRUT — Lebanon's Prime Minister Hassan Diab on Wednesday said a warehouse stocked with 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate caused the explosion that struck Beirut on Tuesday, August 4, according to Al Jazeera.

Citing officials, Al Jazeera reports that, as of Friday, the blast had killed at least 157 people and injured 5,000, a toll that was expected to rise as search-and-rescue operations continue.

Ammonium nitrate is usually produced in small pallets called prills and the substance is utilized in fertilizers and mining explosives, according to an article in the Conversation by Melbourne University chemist Gabriel da Silva.

Da Silva writes that ammonium nitrate itself does not burn under normal conditions. Instead, the chemical acts as an oxygen source that accelerates the combustion of other substances.

However, when temperatures are running high enough, ammonium nitrate is capable of self-combustion. As the chemical breaks down into nitrogen oxides and water vapors, gases are suddenly released. This results in explosions.

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