FEARS are growing over huge stockpiles of ammonium nitrate around the world after 153 were killed by 2,750 tonnes of the deadly chemical in Beirut.
Dozens are still missing and 5,000 are injured after the colossal blast in the Lebanese capital on Tuesday.
Ammonium nitrate, predominantly used as agricultural fertiliser, is so explosive it has been used in terror attacks such as the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 which killed 168 people.
And since it has emerged that the stockpile of the chemical compound was left for years in a warehouse in Beirut's port, there are growing concerns that similar blasts could happen around the world.
Locals in the Australian city of Newcastle – 101 miles north of Sydney – have called for a large ammonium nitrate plant to be relocated.
The facility stockpiles on average between 6,000 to 12,000 tonnes – up to four times the amount detonated in Lebanon.
According to several local media reports, the stockpile has led resident groups to campaign for the plant to be relocated.
Chemical engineer and community campaigner Keith Craig told ABC:"It's a totally inappropriate place to have such a dangerous material produced and stored, and it's something we've been complaining about for many, many years.”
He is one of 300 residents in the Stockton Community Action Group campaigning for the Orica plant to be relocated, or its stockpiles to be significantly reduced, the ABC reported.
In a statement, Orica said it followed all international standards and local regulations to ensure safety at every stage of the manufacturing supply chain.
Serious concern has also been raised in Chennai, India, where authorities today tried to play down the dangers posed by the 700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate at a container freight near the city.
In 2015, the chemical load was seized from a Tamil Nadu-based importer who claimed it was fertiliser grade despite officials discovering it was in fact explosive grade, it has been reported.
Some media outlets and political party Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) have voiced concern over the mass storage of the explosive material.
In response, a customs official told PTI: "The goods are safe and pose no danger"
Aside from the depraved bombing in Oklahoma, the compound was also used by far-right terrorist Anders Brevik during his sadistic attack in Oslo in 2011.
His ammonium nitrate bomb killed eight in the city while he also gunned down 69 others in nearby Utøya.
Despite the dangers posed by the chemical, if it is stored correctly away from strong heat, ammonium nitrate is difficult to ignite, says Jimmie Oxley, a chemistry professor at the University of Rhode Island.
What is ammonium nitrate?
Ammonium nitrate is a chemical compound which is predominantly used in agriculture as a fertiliser – it is also highly explosive.
It is a white crystalline solid and is highly soluble in water – with the chemical formula NH₄NO₃.
The chemical is applied in granule form into the soil and quickly dissolves under moisture, allowing nitrogen to be released.
Another use of ammonium nitrate is in the food industry where it is used as a nutrient in producing antibiotics and yeast.
In most countries, it is used to make explosives for mining, quarrying and civil construction because of its low cost and ready availability.
It has been the cause of numerous industrial explosions over the last three decades, including the explosion at a chemical plant in Toulouse, France, in 2001 that killed 31 people.
Ammonium nitrate was also used to create the explosives used in the 2006 Mumbai train bombings.
By itself, ammonium nitrate is not regarded as dangerous but under certain conditions, it can become deadly.
The chemical is classified as an “energetic material” meaning that it produces heat as it decomposes.
If there is a significant amount of ammonium nitrate it can generate enough heat to catch fire and continue to burn eventually causing an explosion.
He told Agence France-Presse (AFP): "If you look at the video (of the Beirut explosion), you saw the black smoke, you saw the red smoke – that was an incomplete reaction.
"I am assuming that there was a small explosion that instigated the reaction of the ammonium nitrate – whether that small explosion was an accident or something on purpose I haven't heard yet."
In the European Union and the US, the substance is closely regulated and inspected.
Following the Oklahoma City bombing, carried out by a depraved white supremacist, the United States has tighetened restrictions around the compound.
Warehouses that store more than 2,000 pounds are subject to inspections.
Andrea Sella, professor of chemistry at University College London, said the crystal-like synthetic substance becomes even more dangerous when it reacts with fire after it begins to decay.
He told the BBC: "The real problem is that over time it will absorb little bits of moisture and it eventually turns into an enormous rock."
Professor Oxley says that despite its explosiveness, the world has benefited from the use of ammonium nitrate as a fertilizer.
She said: "We wouldn't have this modern world without explosives, and we wouldn't feed the population we have today without ammonium nitrate fertilizer.
"We need ammonium nitrate, we just need to pay good attention to what we're doing with it."
Source: Read Full Article