According to the scientist, the ongoing political and economic crises might have indirectly caused the incident.
“I cannot believe that ammonium nitrate was stored not far from the center of Beirut, unattended, and in such large quantities: 2,750 tons! This is total neglect,” Yazami said in an interview with Morocco’s state media.
The Moroccan expert commented on the incident that occurred on Tuesday, August 4, in the Lebanese capital. The explosion caused by ammonium nitrate that was stored in Beirut’s port has killed at least 137 people and injured 5,000 more. The blast left half the city of Beirut in ruins.
“It is known to undergraduate chemistry students that ammonium nitrate is one of the largest explosives in the world. It is a metastable material that, in theory, can explode at any time,” Yazami explained.
The inventor stressed the need to always keep ammonium nitrate under strict supervision to avoid such incidents.
According to Yazami, many factors can trigger a chain reaction for ammonium nitrate, including water, heat, and flammable liquids. In chemistry, the reaction is called an internal redox.
Ammonium nitrate contains nitrogen in two forms, Yazami explained. In nitrate, nitrogen works as an oxidizing agent. Meanwhile, in ammonium, nitrogen works as a reducing agent. Combined, the two forms can react violently and trigger a large explosion.
Special safety requirements
The metastable nature of ammonium nitrate requires special storage conditions, the Moroccan scientist stressed. The chemical compound must not be exposed to light or any source of heat. It should also avoid humidity and any flammable hydrocarbons.
The storage facilities must contain thermographic cameras to monitor ammonium nitrate’s temperature, Yazami continued. Finally, large quantities of the chemical compound must not be stored in one place.
The Moroccan inventor recalled a similar incident that occurred in Toulouse, southern France, in 2001. The quantity of ammonium nitrate, however, was ten times smaller than in Beirut. The Toulouse incident caused 29 deaths, seriously injured 30 people, injuries, and minorly wounded 2,500.
According to Yazami, the political and socio-economic unrest in Lebanon might have been an indirect cause of the Beirut explosion.
“The situation in Beirut was very unstable, with the political crisis and the economic crisis marked by inflation. The Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value and many people live below the poverty line,” the Moroccan expert highlighted.
“Maybe Lebanon just did not have the means to monitor this ammonium nitrate deposit properly,” he added.