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The Biggest Ammonium Nitrate Explosions Since 2000



ammonium nitrate explosions

The Biggest Ammonium Nitrate Explosions since 2000

This week, a massive explosion involving ammonium nitrate rocked the city of Beirut, sending shock waves through the media.

This recent tragedy is devastating, and unfortunately, it’s not the first time this dangerous chemical compound has caused widespread damage.

Today’s graphic outlines the biggest accidental ammonium nitrate explosions over the last 20 years.

A Brief Explanation of Ammonium Nitrate

Before getting into the details, first thing’s first—what is ammonium nitrate?

Ammonium nitrate is formed when ammonia gas is combined with liquid nitric acid. The chemical compound is widely used in agriculture as a fertilizer, but it’s also used in mining explosives. It’s highly combustible when combined with oils and other fuels, but not flammable on its own unless exposed to extremely high temperatures.

It’s actually relatively tough for a fire to cause an ammonium nitrate explosion—but that hasn’t stopped it from happening numerous times in the last few decades.

The Death Toll

Some explosions involving ammonium nitrate have been deadlier than others. Here’s a breakdown of the death toll from each blast:

2004RyongchonNorth Korea160
2013WestUnited States15

*Note: death count in Beirut as of Aug 6, 2020. Casualty count expected to increase as more information comes available.

One of the deadliest explosions happened in Tianjin, China in 2015. A factory was storing flammable chemicals with ammonium nitrate, and because they weren’t being stored properly, one of the chemicals got too dry and caught fire. The blast killed 165 people and caused $1.1 billion dollars in damage.

In 2001, 14 years before the explosion in Tianjin, a factory exploded in Toulouse, France. The accident killed 30 people and injured 2,500. The power of the blast was equivalent to 20 to 40 tons of TNT, meaning that 40 to 80 tons of ammonium nitrate would have ignited.

In addition to factory explosions, there have been several transportation accidents involving ammonium nitrate. In 2007, a truck in Mexico blew up and killed over 57 people. Filled with explosives, the truck crashed into a pickup, caught fire, and detonated. The blast left a 60-foot long crater in its wake.

The Aftermath

While there have been several ammonium nitrate accidents throughout history, the recent tragedy in Beirut is one of the largest accidental explosions ever recorded, with 157 deaths and 5,000 injuries and counting.

In terms of TNT equivalent, a measure used to gauge the impact of an explosion, it ranks in the top 10 of the largest accidental explosions in history:

Topping the list is yet another ammonium nitrate explosion, this time back in 1947.

Known to history as the Texas City Disaster, the port accident was one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions to occur in history. The explosion killed over 500 people and injured thousands. The impact from the blast was so intense, it created a 15-foot wave that crashed along the docks and caused flooding in the area.

A Resource With Trade-Offs

Despite being dangerous, ammonium nitrate is still a valuable resource. There’s been an increased demand for the chemical from North America’s agricultural sector, and because of this, ammonium nitrate’s market size is expected to see an increase of more than 3% by 2026.

Because of its increasing market size, it’s more important than ever for trade industries to enforce proper safety measures when storing and transporting ammonium nitrate. When safety regulations aren’t followed, accidents can happen—and as we saw this week, the aftermath can be devastating.

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Ranked: America’s Best Universities

Evaluated on 19 different metrics, here’s the list of America’s best universities, led by 14 private schools.



Ranked: America’s Best Universities

The latest ranking of America’s best universities is here, perfectly timed for the approaching admissions season.

“Best” is of course subjective, and U.S. News and World Report has compiled 19 metrics on which they evaluated more than 400 national universities. Some of them include:

  • Graduation rates & performance: A four-year rolling average of the proportion of each entering class earning a bachelor’s degree in six years or less. Performance is measured against predictions made by the publishers, and when beaten, the university gains a higher scoring.
  • Peer assessment: A two-year weighted average of ratings from top academics—presidents, provosts and deans of admissions—on academic quality of peer institutions with which they are familiar.
  • Financial resources: The average per student spend on instruction, research, student services and related educational expenditures in the 2021 fiscal year.
  • Debt: A school’s average accumulated federal loan debt among borrowers only.
  • Pell graduation rates & performance: the same calculation as stated above, but focused only on Pell Grant students, adjusted to give more credit to schools with larger Pell student proportions.

The website’s methodology section details how they sourced their data, the weights assigned to each metric, and their changes over the years.

From the hundreds assessed come the nearly 50 best universities that offer a variety of undergraduate majors, post-graduate programs, emphasize research, or award professional practice doctorates.

Which are the Best Universities in America?

At the top of the list, Princeton University is the best university in the country, known for its physics, economics, and international relations departments. Notably, it’s a rare Ivy league university that does not have a law, medical, or business school.

Here’s the full ranking of America’s best universities, along with annual tuition requirements.

RankSchool NameStateTuition
1Princeton UniversityNew Jersey$59,710
Institute of
3Harvard UniversityMassachusetts$59,076
3Stanford UniversityCalifornia$62,484
5Yale UniversityConnecticut$64,700
6University of
7California Institute
of Technology
7Duke UniversityNorth Carolina$66,172
9Brown UniversityRhode Island$68,230
9Johns Hopkins
9Northwestern UniversityIllinois$65,997
12Columbia UniversityNew York$65,524
12Cornell UniversityNew York$66,014
12University of ChicagoIllinois$65,619
15University of
California, Berkeley
California$48,465 (out-state)
$15,891 (in-state)
15University of
California, LA
California$46,326 (out-state)
$13,752 (in-state)
17Rice UniversityTexas$58,128
18Dartmouth CollegeNew Hampshire$65,511
18Vanderbilt UniversityTennessee$63,946
20University of Notre DameIndiana$62,693
21University of
Michigan, Ann Arbor
Michigan$57,273 (out-state)
$17,786 (in-state)
22Georgetown UniversityWashington, DC$65,082
22University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill
North Carolina$39,338 (out-state)
$8,998 (in-state)
24Carnegie Mellon UniversityPennsylvania$63,829
24Emory UniversityGeorgia$60,774
24University of VirginiaVirginia$58,950 (out-state)
$22,323 (in-state)
University, St. Louis
28University of
California, Davis
California$46,043 (out-state)
$15,266 (in-state)
28University of
California, San Diego
California$48,630 (out-state)
$16,056 (in-state)
28University of FloridaFlorida$28,658 (out-state)
$6,381 (in-state)
28University of
Southern California
32University of
Texas, Austin
Texas$41,070 (out-state)
$11,698 (in-state)
33Georgia Institute
of Technology
Georgia$32,876 (out-state)
$11,764 (in-state)
33University of
California, Irvine
California$47,759 (out-state)
$15,185 (in-state)
35New York UniversityNew York$60,438
35University of
California, Santa
California$45,658 (out-state)
$14,881 (in-state)
35University of Illinois
Illinois$36,068 (out-state)
$17,572 (in-state)
35University of
Wisconsin, Madison
Wisconsin$40,603 (out-state)
$11,205 (in-state)
39Boston CollegeMassachusetts$67,680
40Rutgers University,
New Brunswick
New Jersey$36,001 (out-state)
$17,239 (in-state)
40Tufts UniversityMassachusetts$67,844
40University of WashingtonWashington$41,997 (out-state)
$12,643 (in-state)
43Boston UniversityMassachusetts$65,168
43The Ohio State UniversityOhio$36,722 (out-state)
$12,485 (in-state)
43Purdue University,
Main Campus
Indiana$28,794 (out-state)
$9,992 (in-state)
46University of
Maryland, College
Maryland$40,306 (out-state)
$11,505 (in-state)
47Lehigh UniversityPennsylvania$62,180
47Texas A&M UniversityTexas$40,607 (out-state)
$12,413 (in-state)
47University of GeorgiaGeorgia$30,220 (out-state)
$11,180 (in-state)
47University of RochesterNew York$64,384
47Virginia TechVirginia$36,090 (out-state)
$15,478 (in-state)
47Wake Forest UniversityNorth Carolina$64,758
53Case Western
Reserve University
53Florida State UniversityFlorida$21,683 (out-state)
$6,517 (in-state)
53Northeastern UniversityMassachusetts$63,141
53University of
Minnesota, Twin
Minnesota$36,402 (out-state)
$16,488 (in-state)
53William & MaryVirginia$48,841 (out-state)
$25,041 (in-state)

MIT places second, and Harvard and Stanford tie for third. Yale rounds out the top five.

Private universities, including seven Ivy League colleges, dominate the top of the rankings. Meanwhile, the highest-ranked public schools are tied at 15th, both state schools in California.

For affordability, since the higher ranks are populated by private universities, there tends to be a broad correlation of better universities being more expensive. That said, the most expensive school in the top 50 ranks is actually the University of Southern California, tied at 28th, for $68,237/year.

As it happens, also tied at 28th, the University of Florida is the most affordable public school for in-state students ($6,381/year) and Florida State University tied at 53rd, is the most affordable for out-of-staters at $21,683/year.

However these costs are tuition-only, and don’t account for other necessary expenses: accommodation, food, and textbooks.

Best University versus Best “Fit”

Finding the best university for prospective students is more than just perusing a long ranking list.

Aside from the numerous schools present within each university—which can often be the best for specific majors—factors like location, proximity to family, campus culture, the non-academic pursuits (sports, extracurriculars, internships) are also taken into consideration.

In fact, research has found that just attaining a university degree improves future earnings potential and employability.

Furthermore, individual engagement at college (irrespective of the rank of the school in question) plays a far bigger role in learning and general well-being than simply attending a highly-ranked school.

However, for low income and minority students, attending a top-ranked school does improve future earnings considerably. For women, it also often results in delaying marriage and kids, which results in more work-hours and as a result, more pay.

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