With the horrific footage of the Beirut explosion still fresh in the minds of people around the world, many are understandably asking questions about the manufacture, storage and usage of ammonium nitrate in their own countries.
Here in Australia, there are apparently several places where the substance is stored. The largest and most prominent is in the NSW city of Newcastle.
Huge stockpile in the Port of Newcastle
According to a report by SBS News, it believed to be up to four times larger than the Beirut stockpile that exploded.
The facility at Kooragang Island plant in the Port of Newcastle is run by mining company Orica and is believed to stockpile between 6 000 and 12 000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate.
To put that into perspective, the Lebanese blast – which is one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded – was around 2 750 tonnes according to preliminary estimates by officials in Beirut.
Company says nothing to be concerned about
In a statement released to SBS News by Orica, the company said residents have nothing to be concerned about.
“You have to be extremely negligent with ammonium nitrate for it to explode,” a spokesperson said.
While noting the storage in Beirut was apparently without safety protocols and with fireworks stored nearby, Orica said its Australian operations are highly regulated and regularly inspected by authorities.
Beirut situation is not comparable to here
“This cannot be compared to the responsible and heavily regulated production, storage and transport of ammonium nitrate by Orica and others in Australia,” the spokesman said.
“Ammonium nitrate storage areas at Kooragang Island are fire-resistant, are built exclusively from non-flammable materials and we have designated exclusion zones around these areas.”
The company added that there had not been a single incident at the site in its 51-year history.
Located only 3km from city, says campaigner
But ABC News quotes Newcastle community campaigner and chemical engineer, Keith Craig, as saying the Orica factory “is only three kilometres from Newcastle’s CBD and only 800 metres from North Stockton residents”.
It is, said Craig, “totally inappropriate place to have such a dangerous material produced and stored, and it’s something we’ve been complaining about for many, many years”.
South Australia has 170 storage locations
Meanwhile, ABC Radio Adelaide reports that South Australia’s workplace safety watchdog says ammonium nitrate is stored at about 170 locations across the state.
But SafeWork SA told the radio station that it monitors each of the sites and the manner in which the chemical is handled.
“All of the ammonium nitrate storages in the state are heavily regulated, heavily controlled and we monitor the condition of the ammonium nitrate stores,” SafeWork SA chemicals, hazards and explosive materials expert Natasha Wright said.