Wed, 23 Sep 2020

BEIJING, Aug. 7 (Xinhua) -- The director of the Port of Beirut has been detained following the devastating explosion there earlier this week, according to local reports, saying he was aware of the ammonium nitrate stored at the port.

According to primary information, over 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate stored since 2014 in a warehouse at the port may have caused the explosions on Tuesday, leaving nearly 150 dead and 5,000 injured, and causing heavy damage across the city.

Ammonium nitrate is a colorless crystalline substance, which is highly soluble in water. It is a common industrial chemical used mainly for fertiliser because it provides nitrogen for plants.

Meanwhile, because solid ammonium nitrate can undergo explosive decomposition when heated in a confined space, it is also one of the main components in mining explosives.

Government regulations are usually imposed on its shipment and storage. However, the chemical has previously caused deadly explosions.

On Aug. 12, 2015, a massive warehouse explosion rocked the port city of Tianjin, China, killing at least 165 people. Investigators found the blast was caused by a fire started in a container through the auto-ignition of nitro-cotton, which then ignited other chemicals, including ammonium nitrate.

On April 17, 2013, a fire intentionally started at the West Fertilizer Co. facility in U.S. state of Texas caused at least 28 tons of ammonium nitrate to explode, killing 15 people, injuring at least 236, and leveling part of the Texas town of West.

In May 2004, at least 17 people were killed at Mihailesti, Romania, when a truck carrying 20 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer ran off the road, catching fire and exploding. Firefighters and two television journalists were among the dead.

On April 22, 2004, a massive blast occurred at the Ryongchon railway station in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's North Phyongan province after an oil tanker collided with a train loaded with ammonium nitrate fertilizer, leaving at least 161 people dead and more than 1,300 injured.

On Sept. 21, 2001, a chemical plant explosion occurred in a hangar containing 300 tons of ammonium nitrate in Toulouse, France, killing 31 and injuring some 2,000. Eleven years after France's worst chemical accident, the former head of the company involved was convicted of negligent homicide by a court in Toulouse.

In April 1947, in Texas City in the United States, an explosion of two ships in a port containing over 2,000 tons of the chemical killed nearly 600 people and injured over 5,000.

In September 1921, an explosion of 4,500 tons of ammonium sulphate and nitrate fertiliser at a plant in Oppau, Germany, killed 565 people and injured almost 2,000. The massive blast left an 18-meter-deep crater.

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