The use of ammonium nitrate as a fertilizer is not permitted in the Netherlands due to the high safety risks of the product and the risk of abuse. A suspected accident such as Tuesday evening in Beirut with 2,750 tons of stored ammonium nitrate is therefore fundamentally not possible in the Netherlands.
That says Reinier Gerrits, director of Fertilizers Netherlands and an expert at the Royal Association of the Dutch chemical industry VNCI.
According to Gerrits, ammonium nitrate is produced in the Netherlands in Geleen and in Sluiskil, but only as an intermediate for the production of another type of fertilizer. “The companies that manufacture it have a special permit. The enforcers of the environmental services, the security regions and the supervisory authority SZW monitor compliance with the permit conditions very closely. It was also agreed that companies should report suspicious questions about ammonium nitrate to the National Counter-Terrorism Coordinator immediately, ”said Gerrits.
“There is no trade in pure ammonium nitrate. Private individuals or wholesalers cannot have it in the Netherlands, ”says the expert.
Ammonium nitrate, a soluble salt made from nitric acid and ammonia, is used worldwide as a fertilizer, but is also suitable for the production of explosives. Timothy McVeigh used the stuff to cause an explosion in Oklahoma City in 1995. Anders Breivik did the same at the Oslo explosion in 2011. There were also previous accidents in the manufacture of ammonium nitrate. For example in Toulouse in 2001 in France and Tianjin in China in 2015. In all these cases the amount of ammonium nitrate was much lower than in Beirut.
Gerrits cannot and does not want to speculate about what happened in Beirut, he said on Tuesday. “To do this, we would need to know, for example, what else was stored near the hazardous substance.” According to him, the amount of ammonium nitrate in the Lebanese port was not unusually high. “As far as I know, it was a shipload. And then 2750 tons are not yet a full container ship. “