Nearly 700 tons of ammonium nitrate, a substance singled out in the gigantic explosion that ravaged Beirut on Tuesday, have been blocked in a port in India since 2015, local authorities said on Friday.
Alarmed by the tragedy in the Lebanese capital, which left at least 149 dead, 5,000 injured and hundreds of thousands homeless, Indian authorities have ordered a review of the dangerous substances stored in the ports of the giant of 1, 3 billion inhabitants.
They were notably alerted to the presence of 690 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in the port of Chennai, regional capital of the state of Tamil Nadu (south). These are in 37 containers imported from Korea in 2015 by an Indian company, but seized by customs at the port.
Local customs officials were reassuring by saying that the situation does not pose a danger and that an auction process is underway to get rid of this risky component.
“The seized chemicals are stored in a protected manner and the safety of the cargo and the public is guaranteed given the hazardous nature of the substance,” the customs department said in a statement.
Ammonium nitrate is a white and odorless salt used as the base of many nitrogenous fertilizers in the form of granules, and has caused several industrial accidents including the explosion of the AZF plant in Toulouse, France in 2001.
According to the manufacturers, the risk of explosion is minimal when the safety instructions are respected, and a high temperature – of just under 200 degrees – is necessary to burn it.
Industrial accidents are frequent in India. In May, a gas leak in a factory in the south of the country killed 15 people.
The South Asian country also experienced the biggest industrial disaster in history, with the Bhopal tragedy in 1984.
A toxic cloud that escaped from a pesticide plant of the American group Union Carbide in this city in central India then instantly killed 3,500 people, and 25,000 others died in the following years.