Explosions of ammonium nitrate fertilizer in storage or transportation are preventable accidents

J Hazard Mater. 2016 Mar 5:304:134-49. doi: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2015.10.040. Epub 2015 Nov 1.


Ammonium nitrate (AN) is a detonable substance which has led to numerous disasters throughout the 20th century and until the present day, with the latest disaster occurring on 17 April 2013. Needed safety lesson have not been learned, since typically each accident was viewed as a great surprise and investigations focused on finding some unique reason for the accident, rather than examining what is common among the accidents. A review is made of accidents which involved AN for fertilizer purposes, and excluding incidents involving ANFO or additional explosives apart from AN. It is found that, for explosions in storage or transportation, 100% of these disasters had a single causative factor-an uncontrollable fire. Thus, such disasters can be eliminated by eliminating the potential for uncontrolled fire. Two actions are required to achieve this: (1) adoption of fertilizer formulations which reduce the potential for uncontrolled fire and for detonation; and (2) adoption of building safety measures which provide assurance against uncontrolled fires. Technical means are available for achieving both these required measures. These measures have been known for a long time and the only reason that disasters continue to occur is that these safety measures are not implemented. The problem can be solved unilaterally by product manufacturers or by government authorities, but preferably both should take necessary steps.

Keywords: Ammonium nitrate; Building fire safety; Detonations; Oxidizer fires; Product stewardship; Transportation accidents.