Regulations of Chemical Ammonium Nitrate are being widely discussed after the world was shaken by the news of the Beirut explosion that killed over 170 people, injured over 50000 people, and displaced over hundreds of thousands of people in the Lebanese capital on 4th August 2020. The primary cause of this explosion is said to be the 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that was stored in a warehouse on the Beirut Port. This has sparked a curiosity to know more about the chemical, and the storage and shipping regulation for the same by ports and shipping lines.
What is ammonium nitrate?
According to the Observatory Of Economic Complexities, worldwide trade of ammonium nitrate in 2018 alone, was $2.14 billion with Russia as the leading exporter and Brazil, the leading importer. Ammonium Nitride is famously used for fertilizers and commercial explosions. It is generally considered safe for agricultural purposes. The improper storage of ammonium nitrate can turn this chemical into a dangerous incendiary device, quite quickly. The compound has the potential to stick together into a huge rock by absorbing the moisture gradually. It can cause a vigorous explosion, once exposed to extreme heat. Due to its combustion properties, it has been used to make bombs in the past. Over the past 100 years, there have been several disasters involving the chemical. Following the catastrophic incident on 21st September 2001 at the Grande Paroisse site in Toulouse, France due to Ammonium nitrate, the Major Accident Hazard Bureau of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre hosted a workshop on ammonium nitrate safety in early 2002. Later in 2010, the EU decided to ban the sale of ammonium nitrate-containing more than 16% nitrogen, to private buyers.
The top 5 countries that have imported ammonium nitrate the most are Brazil, Peru, Ukraine, Morocco, United Kingdom over the span of 5 years according to data collected by knoema.com. The import by few countries has been inconsistent over time. 2014 saw the least import of ammonium nitrate overall in these countries and 2013, 2017 have almost the same pattern of import overall in these countries
The Russian Federation has been the biggest exporter of Ammonium nitrate overall from 2013 to 2017 followed by Lithuania, Georgia, Bulgaria, United States of America and Uzbekistan according to data by https://knoema.com/. The quantity exported by Bulgaria increased substantially following 2015.
What are the shipping regulations for ammonium nitrate?
The quantity of ammonium nitrate being stored, its closeness to the combustible substance, the ventilation of the area, and the distance of the area in which it is being stored is essential to determine safety. There have been guidelines issued for the storage and transportation of ammonium nitrate by the UN, but they vary from country to country.
Fertilizers might be available in packaging ranging from 25kg bags to Bulk Container (FIBCIs)
Further packaging directions might vary depending on the country, for example in the UK, where grades of AN with more than 28% of nitrogen content are classified as hazardous and only 500Kgs or greater packaging can be sold to the customers, according to Agricultural Industries Confederation report on AN.
One of the major things to consider is the packaging of AN fertilizers is that the packaging should be moisture-proof and should have a proper seal to avoid access to moisture. The packaging must be strong enough to prevent any deterioration due to climate change and contamination in case of exposure to water and oil. Usually, polythene and polypropylene bags with micro vents for stability are used for the packaging since they satisfy most of the criteria. It is essential that the bags have a label that displays the content inside. Following the national and international regulations should be of utmost priority.
Relevant IMO instructions and information regarding handling and carrying of Ammonium Nitrate based fertilizers (non-hazardous) should be known and followed by everyone involved in packaging, shipping, and storage of the product.
Due to its ability to discharge corrosive gases which could harm reefers, AN should be stored and shipped in dry containers and not in operating or non-operating reefers.
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