The Beirut port explosion in August 2020, caused by fire spreading across a storage area detonating a large amount of ammonium nitrate (AN), resulted in 300 deaths and 6,500 injuries, the displacement of about 300,000 people and severe damage to the port and city, including healthcare facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The accident and subsequent disaster remain central to the economic and political crises facing Lebanon. It has compounded multiple disasters, adding to socio-economic issues the country was already grappling with. The ongoing investigation into the explosion has increased political tension and lead to a fatal conflict breaking out. Over the past 100 years, many accidents involving AN have been registered all around the world.
International legal and policy instruments, recommendations and knowledge exist on how best to handle, store and transport ammonium nitrate, and how to prevent related accidents and mitigate their consequences. UNECE proudly hosts the Industrial Accidents Convention and services the ECOSOC bodies in charge of developing recommendations for global harmonization of criteria for classifying and labelling chemicals and transporting dangerous goods.
In order to further foster the use of best practices and share information about lessons learned from past accidents, UNECE has gathered a range of UN organizations (UNECE, UNDRR, ILO, IMO, UNEP/OCHA Joint Environment Unit) and the OECD to organize a Seminar in follow-up to the Beirut port explosion.
Partner organizations, under UNECE’s lead, have conducted a global survey in advance of the seminar. Analysis of the survey results, including from 101 respondents from all five UN regions, showed key areas of concern regarding AN: classification, coordination amongst authorities, port management, safe storage and transport, land-use planning, inspections, public information and security. Most countries use international classification and labelling standards, but a review of AN classification and properties, including testing to determine its resistance to detonation, is needed. While most countries have rules to inspect sites containing AN, inspection criteria need to be scrutinized, especially for storage sites containing mass amounts of AN or other hazardous substances near AN.
The seminar will cover the above issues and more. At the seminar, policy-makers and experts from national authorities, industry and international organizations will exchange information, good practices and lessons learned and discuss how to enhance the safety of storing, handling and transporting hazardous substances such as ammonium nitrate and its fertilizers.
“I encourage all concerned actors to join us for this important seminar. I call on Member States, industry and stakeholders to step up their efforts to implement exiting instruments and continuously place safety and accident prevention at the forefront!” said Dimitry Mariyasin, UNECE Deputy Executive Secretary.
More information on the seminar, which will be held online on 14 December 2021 (12:00-14:00 and 14:30-16:30 CET), can be found here: https://unece.org/info/Environmental-Policy/Industrial-Accidents/events/358445.
Note to editors
About AN explosions
2021 marks a century since the BASF plant explosion in Oppau, Germany, where AN mixtures exploded and caused the loss of 500 lives, 2,000 injuries, homelessness and the near full destruction of the nearby town. It also marks 20 years since the AZote Fertilisant (AZF) plant explosion in Toulouse, France, where AN-based fertilizers exploded and caused 30 deaths, 2,500 injuries and billions of euros in damage. The 2015 Tianjin port explosion in China involved AN, and killed 165 people, injured 798 and caused severe material damage. Explosions and/or dangerous smoking events from thermal decomposition of AN have also occurred in Australia, Brazil, the United States and elsewhere within the past 20 years. Most recently, the Bata explosions in Equatorial Guinea killed 107 people, injured 700 and damaged surrounding areas this year.