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Ammonium nitrate

The chemical compound ammonium nitrate, the nitrate

salt of ammonium, has the chemical formula NH4 NO3 ,
simplied to N2 H4 O3 . It is a white crystalline solid which
is highly soluble in water. It is predominantly used in
agriculture as a high-nitrogen fertilizer.[3] The compound
is used as an explosive in mining, and also sometimes in
improvised explosive devices. It is the main component
of ANFO, a popular explosive, which accounts for 80%
of explosives used in North America. It is used in instant
cold packs, as hydrating the salt is an endothermic process.

trate is also used to modify the detonation rate of other

explosives, such as ammonia-based dynamites, for example nitroglycerin and amatol.
Numerous safety guidelines are available for storing and
handling ammonium nitrate.[12] It should not be stored
near combustible substances.

Ammonium nitrate has a critical relative humidity of

59.4%, above which it will absorb moisture from the atmosphere. Therefore, it is important to store ammonium
nitrate in a tightly sealed container. Otherwise, it can coalesce into a large, solid mass. Ammonium nitrate can
Ammonium nitrate is found as a natural mineral (ammo- absorb enough moisture to liquefy. Blending ammonium
nia nitrethe ammonium analogue of saltpetre and other nitrate with certain other fertilizers can lower the critical
nitre minerals such as sodium nitrate) in the driest re- relative humidity.[13]
gions of the Atacama Desert in Chile, often as a crust on
the ground and/or in conjunction with other nitrate, chlo- The potential for use of the material as an explosive has
rate, iodate, and halide minerals. Ammonium nitrate was prompted regulatory measures. For example in Australia,
mined there in the past, but virtually 100% of the chem- the Dangerous Goods Regulations came into eect in
August 2005 to enforce licensing in dealing with such
ical now used is synthetic.
substances.[14] Licenses are granted only to applicants (industry) with appropriate security measures in place to
prevent any misuse.[15] Additional uses such as educa1 Fertilizer
tion and research purposes may also be considered, but
individual use will not. Employees of those with licenses
Ammonium nitrate is an important fertilizer with the to deal with the substance are still required to be superNPK rating 34-0-0 (34% nitrogen).[4] It is less concen- vised by authorized personnel and are required to pass a
trated than urea (46-0-0), giving ammonium nitrate a security and national police check before a license may
slight transportation disadvantage. Ammonium nitrates be granted.
advantage over urea is that it is more stable and does not
lose nitrogen to the atmosphere. During warm weather it
is best to apply urea soon before rain is expected to min- 3 Production
imize nitrogen loss.[5][6]

The industrial production of ammonium nitrate entails

the acid-base reaction of ammonia with nitric acid:[16]

Safety, handling, and storage

HNO3 + NH3 NH4 NO3

Health and safety data are shown on the material safety
data sheets available from suppliers and found on the
internet.[7] In response to several explosions resulting in
the deaths of numerous people, U.S. agencies of Environmental Protection (EPA), Occupational Health and
Safety (OSHA) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and
Firearms jointly issued safety guidelines.[8]

Ammonia is used in its anhydrous form (i.e. gas form)

and the nitric acid is concentrated. This reaction is violent owing to its highly exothermic nature. After the solution is formed, typically at about 83% concentration, the
excess water is evaporated to an ammonium nitrate (AN)
content of 95% to 99.9% concentration (AN melt), depending on grade. The AN melt is then made into prills
or small beads in a spray tower, or into granules by spraying and tumbling in a rotating drum. The prills or granules may be further dried, cooled, and then coated to prevent caking. These prills or granules are the typical AN
products in commerce.

Heating or any ignition source may cause violent

combustion or explosion.[9] Ammonium nitrate reacts
with combustible and reducing materials as it is a strong
oxidant. Although it is mainly used for fertilizer, it can
be used for explosives. It was sometimes used to blast
away earth to make farm ponds.[10][11] Ammonium ni1


The ammonia required for this process is obtained by the 6 Health hazards
Haber process from nitrogen and hydrogen. Ammonia
produced by the Haber process is oxidized to nitric acid. Health and safety data are shown on the material safety
Another production method is used in the so-called Odda data sheets which are available from suppliers and can be
found on the internet.[19]
Ammonium nitrate can also be made via metathesis re- Ammonium nitrate is not very hazardous to health and is
usually used in fertilizer products.[19][20][21] The chances
(NH4 )2 SO4 + 2 NaNO3 2 NH4 NO3 +
Na2 SO4
(NH4 )2 SO4 + Ca(NO3 )2 2 NH4 NO3 +

of direct personal exposure to the chemical are very low,

because the fertilization of the soil by use of ammonium
nitrate is done at early stages of plant growth and usually does not remain detectable on the harvested plants or
when the plants reach the consumer.

Ammonium nitrate has an LD50 of 2217 mg/kg,[19]

which for comparison is about two-thirds that of table
Sodium sulfate is removed by lowering the temperature
of the mixture. Since sodium sulfate is much less watersoluble than ammonium nitrate, it precipitates, and may
be ltered o. For the reaction with calcium nitrate, the
6.1 Acute health eects
calcium sulfate generated is quite insoluble, even at room
Short-term exposure to ammonium nitrate can cause
symptoms ranging from minor irritation to nausea,
vomiting, gastric irritation, headaches, dizziness, and
4 Reactions
Ammonium nitrate reacts with metal hydroxides, releas6.2
ing ammonia and forming alkali metal nitrate:

Long-term health eects

The toxicity of nitrates when ingested is due to in

vivo conversion to nitrites. The material safety data
sheet considers chronic ingestion of more than 5
mg/kg/day unacceptable. The primary overdose efAmmonium nitrate gives ammonium chloride and nitric fects of chronic exposure are orthostatic hypotension and
methemoglobinemia. Other common eects include:
acid upon reaction with hydrochloric acid:
faintness, fatigue, weakness, depression, mental impairment, dizziness, shortness of breath, and reex tachycarNH4 NO3 + HCl NH4 Cl + HNO3
dia; headache, nausea, vomiting, and nephritis may also
Ammonium nitrate leaves no residue when heated:
NH4 NO3 + MOH NH3 + H2 O + MNO3 (M
= Na, K)

NH4 NO3 N2 O + 2H2 O

7 Disasters

Ammonium nitrate is also formed in the atmosphere from Main article: Ammonium nitrate disasters
emissions of NO, SO2 , and NH3 , and is a secondary component of PM10.[17]
Ammonium nitrate decomposes into the gases nitrous oxide and water vapor when heated (not an explosive reaction); however, it can be induced to decompose explo5 Crystalline phases
sively by detonation. Large stockpiles of the material can
be a major re risk due to their supporting oxidation, and
also detonate, as happened in the Texas City disaster
Transformations of the crystal states due to changing conof
which led to major changes in the regulations
ditions (temperature, pressure) aect the physical propfor
and handling.
erties of ammonium nitrate. These crystalline states have
been identied:
The type V crystal is a quasicubic form which is related to
caesium chloride, the nitrogen atoms of the nitrate anions
and the ammonium cations are at the sites in a cubic array
where Cs and Cl would be in the CsCl lattice.[18]

The two major classes of incidents resulting in explosions

The explosion happens by the mechanism of shockto-detonation transition. The initiation happens by

an explosive charge going o in the mass, by the on April 17, 2013. Investigators said they believe it exdetonation of a shell thrown into the mass, or by ploded following a re that began in the plants oce.[24]
detonation of an explosive mixture in contact with
the mass. The examples are Kriewald, Morgan
(present-day Sayreville, New Jersey), Oppau, and 8 Mixture with fuel oil
The explosion results from a re that spreads into the
ammonium nitrate itself (Texas City, Brest, Oakdale
PA), or from a mixture of ammonium nitrate with
a combustible material during the re (Repauno,
Cherokee, Nadadores). The re must be conned
at least to a degree for successful transition from
a re to an explosion (a phenomenon known as
"deagration-to-detonation transition"). Pure, compact AN is stable and very dicult to ignite, and
numerous cases exist when even impure AN did not
explode in a re.
Ammonium nitrate-based explosives were used in the
Oklahoma City in 1995 and 2011 Delhi bombings, the
2013 Hyderabad blasts, and the 2011 bombing in Oslo.
Ammonium nitrate decomposes in temperatures normally well above 200C. However, the presence of impurities (organic and/or inorganic) often reduce the temperature point when heat is being generated. Once the
AN has started to decompose, then a runaway reaction
will normally occur as the heat of decomposition is very
large. AN evolves so much heat that this runaway reaction is normally impossible to stop. This is a well-known
hazard with some types of N-P-K Fertilizers, and it is responsible for the loss of several cargo ships.

Main article: ANFO

ANFO is a mixture of 94% ammonium nitrate (AN)
and 6% fuel oil (FO) widely used as a bulk industrial
explosive.[25]:1 It is used in coal mining, quarrying, metal
mining, and civil construction in undemanding applications where the advantages of ANFOs low cost and ease
of use matter more than the benets oered by conventional industrial explosives, such as water resistance, oxygen balance, high detonation velocity, and performance in
small diameters.[25]:2

9 References
[1] Pradyot Patnaik. Handbook of Inorganic Chemicals.
McGraw-Hill, 2002, ISBN 0-07-049439-8
[2] Martel, B.; Cassidy, K. (2004). Chemical Risk Analysis:
A Practical Handbook. ButterworthHeinemann. p. 362.
ISBN 1-903996-65-1.
[3] Karl-Heinz Zapp Ammonium Compounds in Ullmanns
Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry 2012, Wiley-VCH,
Weinheim. doi:10.1002/14356007.a02_243
[4] Nutrient Content of Fertilizer Materials

Under normal handling conditions, ammonium nitrate is

not harmful. However, inhalation of high concentrations [6]
of its dust can cause respiratory tract irritation. Symp[7]
toms may include: coughing, sore throat, shortness of
breath, or even suocation. When swallowed in high [8]
concentrations, ammonium nitrate may cause headache,
dizziness, abdominal pain, vomiting, bloody diarrhea,
weakness, a tingling sensation, heart and circulation ir[9]
regularities, convulsions, collapse, and suocation. It
forms a mild acid when mixed with water. This acid can
cause irritation to the eyes, nose, and skin.[23]
In November 2009, a ban on ammonium sulfate, ammonium nitrate, and calcium ammonium nitrate fertilizers was imposed in the former Malakand Division
comprising the Upper Dir, Lower Dir, Swat, Chitral, and
Malakand districts of the North West Frontier Province
(NWFP) of Pakistanby the NWFP government, following reports that those chemicals were used by militants to make explosives. In January 2010, these substances were also banned in Afghanistan for the same reason. After several cases, AN has now been legalised due
to the Pakistani forces of NWFP.
Ammonium nitrate was suspected as the explosive responsible for the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas

Ammonium nitrate MSDS

Chemical Advisory: Safe Storage, Handling, and Management of Ammonium Nitrate United States Environmental Protection Agency
Pradyot Patnaik (2002). Handbook of Inorganic Chemicals. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-049439-8.
Pothole pond

[11] Progressive Farmer Magazine

[12] Storing and handling ammonium nitrate
[13] Fertilizers Europe (2006). Guidance for Compatibility
of Fertilizer Blending Materials (PDF).
[14] Dangerous Goods (HCDG) Regulations
[15] Ammonium Nitrate-Regulating its use, Balancing Access
& Protection from Worksafe Victoria.


[17] Int Panis, LLR (2008). The Eect of Changing Background Emissions on External Cost Estimates for Secondary Particulates (PDF). Open Environmental Sciences
2: 4753. doi:10.2174/1876325100802010047.
[18] Choi, C. S.; Prask, H. J. (1983).
The structure of ND4 NO3 phase V by neutron powder diraction. Acta Crystallographica B 39 (4): 414420.
[19] CF Industries. Ammonium nitrate MSDS (PDF).
[20] Chemicalland21 Ammonium Nitrate.
[21] Ammonium Nitrate. Paton Fertilizers Pty Ltd. 2005.
[22] Martel, B.; Cassidy, K. (2004). Chemical Risk Analysis:
A Practical Handbook. ButterworthHeinemann. ISBN
[23] The Hazards and Dangers of Ammonium Nitrate [Ammonium Nitrate Dangers |
ece Investigators blame ammonium nitrate in massive
West explosion
[25] Cook, Melvin A. (1974). The Science of Industrial Explosives. IRECO Chemicals. p. 1. ASIN B0000EGDJT.

Properties: UNIDO and International Fertilizer Development Center (1998), Fertilizer Manual, Kluwer
Academic Publishers, ISBN 0-7923-5032-4.


External links

International Chemical Safety Card 0216

Storing and Handling Ammonium Nitrate, United
Kingdom Health and Safety Executive publication
INDG230 (1986)
Chemical Advisory: Safe Storage, Handling, and
Management of Ammonium Nitrate United States
Environmental Protection Agency
Calculators: surface tensions, and densities, molarities and molalities of aqueous ammonium nitrate



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