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The Biggest Ammonium Nitrate Explosions Since 2000

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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:

YearLocationCountryDeaths
2015TianjinChina165
2004RyongchonNorth Korea160
2020BeirutLebanon157*
2007MonclovaMexico57
2001ToulouseFrance30
2003Saint-Romain-en-JarezFrance26
2004MihăileştiRomania18
2013WestUnited States15
2004BarracasSpain2
2014WyandraAustralia0

*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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Mapped: Chinese Provinces With Cities Over 1 Million People

Some Chinese provinces are so populous they rival entire countries. But how many of them have cities over a million people?

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A cropped map of all the Chinese provinces with cities over 1 million people.

Mapped: Chinese Provinces With Cities Over 1 Million People

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Almost two-thirds of the 1.4 billion Chinese population lives in an urban area. But how does this play out across the country’s geography?

This map shows the Chinese provinces with cities over a million residents. Data for this graphic is sourced from citypopulation.de.

Ranked: Chinese Provinces With Cities Over 1 Million People

China’s Guangdong province has 17 cities with a population size of 1 million or more. It is also China’s most populous province, home to 127 million people. This makes it comparable to the size of Japan, the 12th most populous country in the world.

RankProvinceCities With 1 Million People
1Guangdong17
2Jiangsu12
3Shandong9
4Hebei6
5Zhejiang6
6Liaoning5
7Guangxi*4
8Henan4
9Anhui3
10Fujian3
11Heilongjiang3
12Hubei3
13Hunan3
14Inner Mongolia*3
15Jiangxi3
16Jilin2
17Gansu2
18Shaanxi2
19Shanxi2
20Sichuan2
21Xinjiang*2
22Beijing**1
23Chongqing**1
24Guizhou1
25Hainan1
26Ningxia*1
27Qinghai1
28Shanghai**1
29Tianjin**1
30Yunnan1
31Hong Kong***1
32Macao***1

*Autonomous Region. **Direct-Administered Municipality. ***Special Administrative Region.

Jiangsu, ranked fourth in population overall, is the only other province which has 10+ cities with a million or more inhabitants.

Meanwhile, some of China’s most populous cities—Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, and Chongqing—are administered directly by the central government, and do not fall under provincial control.

In fact, Shanghai and Beijing have informal “population caps” to prevent them from growing larger, in a bid to reduce pollution, overcrowding, and pressure on public services.

On the other hand, Tibet’s cold climes and rugged terrain make for a sparsely-populated area, totalling 3 million people across 1.2 million km². Tibet is the only province-level division in China without a single city over a million residents.

All together, China has 105 cities with more than one million inhabitants. For comparison, India has 65, and the U.S. has nine.

Learn More About Population Metrics from Visual Capitalist

If you enjoyed this post, check out Interactive Map: The World as 1,000 People. This visualization shows how unevenly people are distributed across the globe, re-imagining the entire 8 billion human population as only 1,000 people.

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