By Julia Galperin
On Tuesday (August 4, 2020), a massive explosion occurred in the Lebanese capital of Beirut causing the city to be destroyed and many injured or killed. Not much is known about the explosion, however it has been linked to a supply of "confiscated and potentially unsecured explosive materials, stored in a warehouse at the city's port, close to populated areas." The common fertilizer known as ammonium nitrate, NH4NO3, has an explosive risk. According to officials, 2750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate was stored at the city's port. A fire started in the area before the explosion which created smoke and tiny explosions. The tiny explosions created a white condensation cloud that spread, which was then followed by red-orange smoke. Many say that the color of this smoke is a known property of NO2 gas, which could be produced from the incomplete decomposition of ammonium nitrate.
When energy is applied to nitrate(fire) to ammonium nitrate, the molecule becomes unstable. Since ammonium nitrate contains nitrogen at 2 different oxidation states, an exothermic reaction(release of heat) occurs between the two nitrogens. The nitrate acts as an oxidizer(substances that increase the burning of fuels by increasing the availability of oxygen) and the ammonium acts as a reducing agent. Since all products are gaseous, there is a sudden increase in pressure that will travel at very fast speeds casusing the horrible boom that destroyed the city and many lives.