Wednesday night, ammonium nitrate exploded with deadly results at the West Fertilizer Company plant near Waco, Texas.
Ammonium nitrate is a capricious chemical. Fertilizers made with the chemical provide nitrogen to crops, which helps them grow leaves and maintain their green color. However, ammonium nitrate can also break down rapidly and produce a tremendous amount of heat. In other words, it explodes.
When exposed to an intense shock or high heat, ammonium nitrate decomposes quickly into nitrogen, oxygen and water. This chemical reaction is exothermic, meaning it expels heat.
The heat can trigger a chemical chain reaction in which a large amount of ammonium nitrate decomposes at once and produces the lethal explosion of fertilizer plants or bombs.
NEWS: Deadly Explosion At Texas Fertilizer Plant
During fertilizer production, high-pressure tanks keep ammonium nitrate in a liquid state. If those tanks rupture, the liquid becomes a gas and mixes with oxygen in the air. This combination explodes easily.