What is ammonium nitrate and what is it used for?

A HUGE explosion erupted inBeirut on August 4 causing 100 deaths and nearly 4,000 injuries.

It has been reported that the cause of the explosion in the Lebanon capital was ammonium nitrate. But what is it and what is it used for? Here is everything we know…

What is ammonium nitrate?

Ammonium nitrate is a chemical compound with the formula NH₄NO₃.

It is a white crystalline solid and is highly soluble in water.

What is it used for?

Ammonium nitrate is predominantly used in agriculture as a fertiliser.

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.

What makes ammonium nitrate explode?

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. 

When mixed with fuel oils, the chemical creates a potent explosive that is widely used in the construction industry.

Most countries have regulations controlling the storage of ammonium nitrate to make it safe.

The chemical made the news again after a huge explosion in Beirut caused the death of 100 people and nearly 4,000 injuries.

It was reported that 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate was stored in a warehouse for six years without safety measures.

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