A year ago this Wednesday, 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded, resulting in the death of 207 people and $15 billion in damages. This explosion left over 300,000 people homeless and injured 7,500. The blast was felt across the middle east and was heard in Cyprus, over 150 miles away. The Beirut Explosion is an important case that should be studied.
This devastating accident was the result of six years of improper storage in a facility without the proper safety measures. While the cause of the detonation is still unknown, it is important to understand how accidents like this can be avoided and prevented in the future.
Let's take a look of the events that led to this disaster...
On September 27th, 2013, the cargo ship MV Rhosus set sail from Georgia. While under way, the MV Rhosus was seized due to unpaid customs and port bills totaling over $100,000. The cargo was then brought ashore in 2014 and stored in Warehouse 12 at the Port of Beirut. There the goods sat for over 5 years as customs officials pleaded with local judges to either sell or re-export the dangerous material. The customs officials’ pleads went unanswered.
At around 6 p.m. on August 4th, 2020, a fire broke out at the warehouse. It was discovered that the hazardous material had been stored in close proximity to fireworks. A local fire crew arrived on the scene at 7:55 pm. The fire crew reported that the fire had been making a “crazy sound”. 30-35 seconds later, the cargo exploded and sent a shockwave across the middle east.
Eye-witness account of the explosion...
How this could have been prevented...
Ammonium Nitrate (UN 0222) is classified as a Class 1.1D Explosive Material, according to 49 CFR Subchapter-C Part 172. Class 1.1 is considered a mass explosion hazard, meaning an explosion affects the entire load instantaneously. In other words, it is extremely dangerous.
Fireworks (UN0333 or UN0334 or UN0335 or UN336) are classified as a Class 1 Explosive Material. The compatibility group of this material is G. Therefore Warehouse 12 in the Port of Beirut stored two materials near each, one compatibility group D and the other compatibility group G. Let’s take a look at 49 CFR 176.144 – Segregation of Class 1 Explosives.
As we can see at the cross-section of compatibility groups D & G, note 1 applies to these groups compatibility. Note 1 reads as below:
Explosive articles in compatibility group G, other than fireworks, may be stowed with articles of compatibility groups C, D, and E, provided no explosive substances are carried in the same compartment, magazine or cargo transport unit.
While the initial source of the fire is still under investigation, it is important to note that proper compatibility procedures must be followed at all times. It is also important to note that 49 CFR applies to hazardous materials in the US only but it is considered a good set of standards to follow at all times.
Feel free to contact us if you have any questions about the Beirut Explosion or any other hazmat inquiries!
Please also note that this post is published for informational purposes only. It is not intended for hazmat advice. For questions or concerns, always consult a professional.