Ammonium nitrate may have sparked the Beirut explosion. It happened in Texas, in 1947, too

In this case, according to Lebanese officials, about 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate had been stockpiled at a Beirut port warehouse, just a few minutes’ walk from the city’s shopping and nightlife districts, since it was confiscated in 2014.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab said the chemical had been stored for the past six years “without preventive measures,” and promised an investigation.

It’s not yet clear what caused the stockpile in Beirut’s port to ignite, with such deadly results, on Tuesday evening.

“Ammonium nitrate is … relatively safe by itself, although a strong oxidant, but highly dangerous when contaminated by any kind of fuel, such as oil or organic material, even in just a few per cent,” Roger W. Read, Honorary Associate Professor at the University of New South Wales’ School of Chemistry, told the Science Media Centre.

“In the presence of heat, such a mixture can easily lead to catastrophic outcomes,” Read added.

Ammonium nitrate is not flammable in itself, Associate Professor Stewart Walker, from the school of Forensic, Environmental and Analytical Chemistry at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, told CNN.

“In this instance, it appears that there was a fire and that fire has caused the ammonium nitrate that had been stockpiled to combust, and when it’s in a confined space, it releases a lot of hot gas,” he said.

“Because the gas takes up a higher volume than the solid, there’s a build-up of pressure and because of the heat released, the hot…

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