Lebanese officials have claimed that the explosion in Beirut, Lebanon could be because of tons of unsecured ammonium nitrate which was stored at a warehouse. So, why was there a red smoke?

The world woke up to the devastating news about Beirut’s explosion which has taken dozens of lives and left thousands of people injured.

The blast happened in a Beirut port on Tuesday, August 4th, destroying nearby buildings and leaving hospitals in the city overwhelmed with patients.

According to The Guardian, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab has revealed that 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate was stored in a warehouse for six years without safety precautions.

So, what colour does ammonium nitrate burn?

Photo by ANWAR AMRO/AFP via Getty Images

Beirut’s red smoke explosion

A number of social media users have shared footage of the blast in Beirut.

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Instagram user @lebaneseyvr posted a series of videos which show that the explosion led to a red, white and black smoke.

In an interview for Sky News, explosives expert Chris Hunter has offered his analysis on the explosion, explaining what might have caused the red smoke.

“When there’s an explosion it usually results in two kinds of smoke, either black or white. If it’s black, we’re looking at high explosives – the type used in military ordinance or terrorist car bombs,” Chris said. “If you see white smoke that’s usually consistent with what we call low explosives.”

Chris continued:

“It looked to me like that deep red colour was from a fire, so it could have been from burning materials, furniture or some sort of dye or paint. It could also have been from the amount of dust in the area.

“The very first thing I thought when I saw this huge explosion was that it’s very unlikely to be gunpowder or ammunition in an area like that. It’s more consistent with a confined low explosion, something like a firework explosion.”

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What colour does ammonium nitrate burn?

Ammonium nitrate doesn’t burn on its own but it will burn if it’s contaminated with combustible materials.

According to the National Library of Medicine, ammonium nitrate is available as a “colorless crystalline solid and processed into prills for specific applications”.

In order for it to burn, oxygen must be present.

The website adds that ammonium nitrate is used to make explosives and fertilizers, and is also used as an ingredient to make yeast and antibiotics.

Did ammonium nitrate cause the explosion?

It’s not clear what exactly caused the explosion in Beirut, however, other experts have also weighed in their opinions.

The Guardian reported that Gabriel da Silva claimed that ammonium nitrate could be highly explosive if it has been contaminated with oil.

Gabriel, who is a senior lecturer in chemical engineering at the University of Melbourne, claimed:

“You need extreme circumstances to set off an explosion. If you look at the smoke that came from the blast it’s this kind of blood red colour. That’s because of the nitrogen oxide air pollutants in it.”

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