News: Recently, the Government has amended the rules for Ammonium Nitrate to curb its pilferage, introduce fire-fighting provisions as well as improve ways to handle and store the chemical. These rules have been amended from the lesson learnt from the Beirut Explosion in 2020. Nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate was stored at Beirut’s port for six years that detonated in 2020, wreaking death and destruction.
- The rules require that ammonium nitrate received at ports be transferred to storage houses 500 metres beyond the port area. The rules also permit the auction of seized lots of ammonium nitrate to ensure safe and speedy disposal besides requiring that Ammonium Nitrate be imported in bagged form only.
- The amendments include provision for adequate fire-fighting facilities in storage and handling areas, improvement of flooring in storage and handling areas. This will reduce the handling of loose chemicals at port and therefore enhance safety.
About Ammonium Nitrate:
- Ammonium Nitrate (NH4NO3)is a nitrogen-rich white, crystalline chemical which is soluble in water.
- It is a common chemical ingredient of agricultural fertilizers. It is used as an ingredient for the production of anaesthetic gases and cold packs. It is also the main ingredient in the manufacture of commercial explosives used in mining and construction.
- It is the main component of the explosive composition known as ANFO- Ammonium Nitrate Fuel Oil.
- Pure ammonium nitrate is not an explosive on its own. For Ammonium nitrate to be explosive, a primary explosive or detonator like RDX or TNT is required. Many Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) used by terrorists around the world have ANFO as the main explosive.
- Stored ammonium nitrate is a fire hazard and can explode in two ways. It may come in contact with some explosive mixture. Due to the oxidation process at large scale, heat may be generated starting a fire and then explosion. This seems to be the primary likely cause of the incident at Beirut port.
How it is regulated:
- It is classified as an oxidizing content(Grade 5.1) under the United Nations classification of dangerous goods.
- The United Nations Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods categorizes the types of dangerous goods, under nine classes like Explosive Materials, Inflammable liquids, easily oxidizing contents.
- In India, the manufacture, conversion, bagging, import, export, transport, possession for sale or use of ammonium nitrate is covered under The Ammonium Nitrate Rules, 2012.
- The Explosives Act, 1884, define ammonium nitrate as the “compound with formulaNH4NO3 including any mixture or compound having more than 45% ammonium nitrate by weight including emulsions, suspensions, melts or gels but excluding emulsion or slurry explosives and non-explosives emulsion matrix and fertilizers from which the ammonium nitrate cannot be separated”. Storage of ammonium nitrate in large quantities in populated areas is illegal in India.
- For the manufacture of ammonium nitrate, an Industrial licence is required under the Industrial Development and Regulation Act, 1951. A license under the Ammonium Nitrate Rules, 2012 is also required for any activity related to ammonium nitrate.