A bombing in the city of Sloviansk, in eastern Ukraine, caused a leak of ammonium nitrate on Wednesday (11).
The substance, a fertilizer, is the same that has already generated major catastrophes such as the explosion in the port of Beirut, Lebanon, in 2020.
After the leak, authorities in Sloviansk, in the Kramatorsk region, urged residents not to leave their homes, but said that for the moment there was no risk to the population.
The leakage and incorrect storage of ammonium nitrate has already caused catastrophes in different regions of the world.
The most recent, and one of the biggest, was the explosion of a fertilizer deposit in the port of Beirut, Lebanon, which destroyed part of the city and left more than 100 dead.
Safe if not heated
Used for food production, ammonium nitrate is not an explosive by itself, as chemist Guilherme Marson explained to g1.
Stored as a white powder – or in water-soluble granules – ammonium nitrate is safe as long as it doesn’t get heated or come into contact with any sparks.
From 210 °C, it decomposes and, if the temperature increases beyond 290 °C, the reaction can become extremely explosive.
“Temperature, spark, a start of flame. The heat causes decomposition, releases nitrogen, oxygen and water, they expand because they are gases (water in the gas phase, of course),” explained the professor at the Institute of Chemistry at the University of São Paulo (USP) and member of the Brazilian Chemical Society (SBQ).
Not found in nature in solid form
Ammonium nitrate is not found in nature in solid form. Ammonium nitrate is industrially produced. And it’s made with the reaction between ammonia and nitric acid.
Ammonium nitrate was first synthesized in 1659 in Germany. But it wasn’t until World War I that it started to be used as an explosive – mixed with dynamite, to make bombs cheaper.
Ammonium nitrate is not a fuel. It doesn’t burn like gasoline, it doesn’t burn like diesel fuel, which can be explosive.
Ammonium nitrate breaks down, and as it breaks down, it produces a series of gases. These gases, heated in the heat of decomposition, expand rapidly, and explode.
Fantastic went to a laboratory to reproduce this explosion. Watch the result of the experiment in the video report:
How does ammonium nitrate explode? See reproduction miniature version of explosion in Lebanon
Ammonium nitrate was also involved in the so-called “deadly airbags” case. The substance was used to make the air pocket open.
Due to a failure, which allowed moisture to penetrate the airbag and corrupt metal parts, the equipment, when triggered, broke in the explosion, bursting the bag and hitting the occupants.
The discovery of the problem generated the biggest recall in history, and since 2013, when the problem was revealed, more than 30 million vehicles have been recalled worldwide.