The videos of blasts in Beirut, Lebanon are still doing rounds online. So in case, anyone’s wondering just how dangerous stocked-up ammonium nitrate is (what caused the blast), they can always go check it out.
BTW, the Beirut blasts are not the only ammonium nitrate-related explosions. They have happened throughout the 20th century, most notably in the United States. In fact, there have been 8 since the year 2000.
1. Faversham, United Kingdom: 2nd April 1916
A huge explosion tore through the gunpowder mill at Uplees, Faversham when a store of 200 tons of TNT and ammonium nitrate exploded after empty sacks caught fire. The explosion reportedly killed at least 108 people. It is remembered all over the UK as The Great Explosion.
2. Oppau, Germany: 21st September 1921
A massive blast occurred at a BASF chemical plant in Ludwigshafen in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany killing 559 people and injuring 1,977. According to reports, about 400 metric tons of a mixture of ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate had exploded leading to a blast that could be heard in Munich, 300 km away.
This incident happened a couple of months after an ammonium nitrate explosion had killed at least 19 people in Kriewald.
3. Tessenderlo, Belgium: 29th April 1942
150 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded along with industrial explosives killing 189 people and injuring another 900.
4. Texas City, USA: 16th April 1947
The massive explosion sent a mushroom cloud more than 2,000 feet toward the sky, triggering a massive fire in a chemical plant. The images were so similar to those in Hiroshima and Nagasaki that people thought it was a nuclear bomb at first.
More than 500 people lost their lives to this explosion, while thousands were injured.
5. Ryongchŏn, North Korea: 22nd April 2004
A freight train carrying ammonium nitrate exploded in Ryongchŏn, a town near the Chinese border. At least 150 people were killed, and more than 1,200 injured. The explosions reportedly ripped through 8,000 homes.
6. Port of Tianjin, China: 12th August 2015
The twin explosions took place at a warehouse at the port which contained flammable chemicals, such as calcium carbide, sodium cyanide, potassium nitrate, ammonium nitrate and sodium nitrate.
After becoming hot and dry, they caught fire and simultaneously combusted killing more than 170 people.
The next big explosion after China was the one in Beirut just 3 days ago. And given that we have 740 tonnes of the explosive chemicals in storage for years on the outskirts of Chennai, under the custody of the Customs Department, we should all be a little concerned as well.
Although, the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs has informed about directing field offices to check if all explosive materials lying in Customs warehouses and ports were safe.
Officials have said that an e-auction to dispose of the chemical was in ‘advanced stages’. That being said, it shouldn’t always take an explosion for us to wake up and ensure safety procedures are intact.