Lebanon’s Prime Minister (PM), Hassan Diab has revealed that a chemical led to the massive explosion at the capital city, Beirut.
Speaking on the cause of the explosion on Wednesday, August 5, Hassan Diab, said 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded after lying unsecured in a warehouse for six years, tallying with reports that a ship carrying a similar quantity of the chemical had unloaded its cargo at the port in 2013.
It still remains unclear what caused the chemical to ignite, the Guardian UK reports.
Daily Times gathered that Ammonium nitrate is a common industrial chemical used mainly for fertiliser because it is a good source of nitrogen for plants. It is also one of the main components in mining explosives.
A senior lecturer in chemical engineering at the University of Melbourne, Gabriel da Silva,who analysed the explosion to newsmen said, ”It is not explosive on its own, rather it is an oxidiser, drawing oxygen to a fire – and therefore making it much more intense.
However, da Silva said, it ignites only under the right circumstances, and these are difficult to achieve. “You need extreme circumstances to set off an explosion,” he said.
While ammonium nitrate can in fact put out a fire, if the chemical itself is contaminated, for example with oil, it becomes highly explosive. “I think that’s what’s happened here,” said da Silva.
While the chemicals in the air should dissipate fairly quickly, lingering pollutants can cause problems later, for example if they acidify rain.
“If you look at the smoke that came from the blast it’s this kind of blood red colour. That’s because of the nitrogen oxide air pollutants in it,” he said.
According to the Guardian UK, If the 2,700-tonne figure is accurate, that would make the ammonium nitrate explosion larger than the 1947 Texas City Disaster, when a consignment of 2,300 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded, killing nearly 500 people.
The blast created a 4.5-metre (15ft) tidal wave.