(Link) New Scientist article on what caused the Beirut explosion (Non-fiction)

The New Scientist site has an article, that’s not behind a paywall, about the Beirut explosion.  Despite what Trump initially said, it wasn’t a deliberate attack, nor was it an attack by Israel, nor was it an atomic bomb or any other rumors.  It was most likely caused when a fire ignited 2750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate.  It had apparently been sitting in a port warehouse since 2013.  The ammonium nitrate wasn’t properly stored, and port authorities had been trying to get rid of it for years.

I will admit that when I finally saw the videos, I wondered if it was a dirty bomb.  But, as with most disasters, first impressions can be wrong, and rumors spread around the world before any investigation starts.  As Matthew Gault at Vice points out, there are people who are still insisting it was an atomic bomb because it formed a mushroom cloud.  But nuclear explosions aren’t the only things that can create mushroom clouds.  As long as there’s an apparent anomaly, someone will use it to question the “official story.”  Sure governments lie, and there are powerful people in the world, but sometimes an industrial accident is just an industrial accident.

USA Today offers this article on how to help the victims of the explosion.  Also according to the article, 5000 people were injured, and over 200,000 people may be homeless.



  1. garnetstar says

    I’m a chemist who specializes in chemical safety, and since the blast in West, Texas I’ve been squawking about not storing over the recommended amount of fertilizer, having a sprinkler system installed in storage facilities, yada yada. Nothing has changed, not in Texas and, I see, not many other places either.

    Ammonium nitrate really needs to be heated to the temperatures of an active fire to be set off in an explosive way, so please, please, just store it in a place with a sprinkler system!

    The video of the Texas blast is shocking enough, but it wasn’t anywhere large enough to form a mushroom cloud, so the devastation of this must be unimaginable.

    The red fumes are indeed the clue: nitrogen dioxide is the red component of smog, and it’s corrosive to the lungs. You could see it in the Texas blast, too. Well, perhaps this will cause some change in the handling of industrial quantities of chemicals.

  2. says

    One thing I see in some of the US media is comparing this to 2001/9/11. There is an inference being made: “they’re muslims, and this is terrorism!” If it were a port in Greece, I doubt you’d see the same comparisons.

    The 1947 Texas explosion is a good comparison because both were ammonium nitrate explosions. But there’s one big difference: Beirut happened in a dockyard away from residential areas, and the videos show several buildings partly shielded the city from the blast. Texas happened on flat ground near a populated area, no shelter at all.


    The 1917 Halifax explosion was far worse not just because of the size of the blast but also because the city was build on sloping hills, facing inwards towards the bay where the explosion happened. Beirut could have been a lot worse.


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