August 2020

Just the one post in August, and its a bit different….

August 5 2020

Every emergency planner should be aware of the explosive capacity of ammonium nitrate fertiliser. “Those that do not learn the lessons of disaster are destined to repeat them” Never has the saying been more true than with the current disaster unfolding before our eyes in Beirut. There have been numerous examples of massive explosions due to ammonium nitrate all around the world. When heated the substance decomposes into oxygen, nitrogen and water vapour and this process is not explosive. It can however decompose explosively by detonation into nitrous oxide and water vapour. The examples of detonation including Kriewald, Morgan, Oppau, Tessenderto and Traskwood. explosionsThe second way it explodes results from fire spreading into ammonium nitrate itself as seen in Beirut , Texas City, Brest, and Tianjin.In the United Kingdom on April 2nd 1916 a factory in Uplees, Faversham, Kent exploded after a fire spread to a store of 700 tons of ammonium nitrate and 25 tons of TNT. The blast killed 115 people. it shattered windows in Southend on Sea across the Thames Estuary and the tremors were felt in Norwich.At Oppau Germany on 21st September 1921 attempts were being made to disaggregate a mixture involving ammonium nitrate. the resulting explosion killed 450 and injured over 2,000 people.At Texas City in the USA on 16 April 1947 an explosion of 960 tons knocked two light aircraft out of the sky, broke windows up to 40 miles away. All but one member of the Texas fire department died and 581 others.On 28th July 1947, a Norwegian cargo ship “The Ocean Liberty” carrying 3,300 tonnes of Ammonium nitrate caught fire in the French port of Brest. The captain ordered the hold to be sealed and pressurised steam pumped in. This did not stop the fire so the ship was towed out of the harbour and about 3 hours later it exploded. It caused 29 deaths and serious damage to the Port of Breast.In China at the port of Tianjin on 15th August 2015, a fire in a store of nitrocellulose triggered an explosion 40 minutes later in a store of 800 tonnes of ammonium nitrate. 110 emergency personnel and 55 residents and employees were killed and 798 people were injured . 8 people remain unaccounted for. Again very extensive damage to the port surrounding apartment blocks and severe damage to a railway station.I have details of numerous other explosions across the world involving Ammonium nitrate. This was just a small sample. This should not have happened. Stores of ammonium nitrate and fire do not mix. I am sure many emergency service personnel have been killed in Beirut. Please spare time to think about this disaster and those that go towards it just as most are running away.

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