Beirut explosion

The deadly history of ammonium nitrate, the explosive linked to the Beirut blast

A deep-dive into the chemistry and legacy of the compound offers clues into what sparked Lebanon’s catastrophe.

A large explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 4. The blast, which rattled entire buildings and broke glass, was felt across the city.

Photograph by Anwar AMRO, AFP via Getty Images

Look closely at footage of downtown Beirut, and you can see the ground warp and buckle just after the blast erupted from the warehouse on August 4. Cell phone videos also show the shockwave and dust cloud rushing through the portside buildings, leaving behind scenes of carnage in the Lebanese capital.

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