Explained: What is ammonium nitrate, which caused the massive explosion in Beirut?

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News: The catastrophic explosion at Beirut port in Lebanon was caused by over 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate kept in storage for over six years.

Facts:

  • Ammonium Nitrate(NH4NO3): It is a white, crystalline chemical which is soluble in water.
  • Where is it used? It is a common industrial chemical used mainly for fertiliser and is also used as one of the main components in mining explosives.
  • Why is it used in Agriculture? In agriculture, ammonium nitrate fertiliser is applied in granule form and quickly dissolves under moisture, allowing nitrogen which is key to plant growth to be released into the soil.
  • Ammonium nitrate as an explosive: Pure ammonium nitrate is not an explosive on its own.It is classified as an oxidiser under the United Nations classification of dangerous goods.
    • However, if mixed with the ingredients like fuel or some other contaminants or because of some other external factors, it can be very explosive.

Additional Facts:

  • Beirut: It is the capital and largest city of Lebanon.It is located on the Mediterranean coast at the foot of the Lebanon Mountains.