A catastrophic blast occurred recently at the Lebanon capital, Beirut. The blast was driven by tonnes of Ammonium Nitrate that killed more than 135 people. Also, it injured more than 1000s.
Ammonium Nitrate is a white, crystalline chemical that is soluble in water. It is the main ingredient used to manufacture commercial explosives
In India, the use of Ammonium Nitrate is defined by the Ammonium Nitrate Rules, 2012 under the Explosives Act, 1884. According to the rules, it is a compound that has more than 45% of ammonium nitrate by weight. This includes suspensions, emulsions, gels or melts excluding fertilizers, slurry explosives and non-explosive emulsion matrix.
The rules also make the storage of large quantities of ammonium nitrate illegal. In order to manufacture Ammonium Nitrate in India, industrial license is required under Industrial Development and Regulation Act, 1951.
United Nations Classification of Dangerous Goods
Under the UN classification of dangerous goods, ammonium nitrate is classified as an oxidiser. However, it can be used as an explosive when mixed with other contaminants.
As an Explosive
The Improvised Explosive Devices used by terrorists in the world contain Ammonium Nitrate Fuel Oil (ANFO). Ammonium Nitrate when used as with RDX or TNT can create catastrophic effects. In majority of terror attacks in India in places such as Varanasi, Pulwama, Pune, Malegaon, Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad, ammonium nitrate is used with the initiator RDX.
Ammonium Nitrate: Major Fire Hazard
The explosion of ammonium nitrate can happen in two ways. One, when the stored chemical comes in contact and the other is due to fire that starts due to extensive oxidation process. The Beirut explosion is due to oxidation at large scale.
In 1921, around 4,500 tonnes of Ammonium Nitrate exploded in Oppau, Germany that killed 500 people. In 1947, around 2,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate detonated at Galveston Bay, Texas killing 581 people. In 2015, an explosion due to Ammonium nitrate killed 173 people in Tianjin port, China.