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Chennai sitting on 700-tonne bomb? Seized containers of ammonium nitrate spark worry

Concerns have been raised over nearly 700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate lying in a Chennai warehouse. It is learnt that several containers of the explosive chemical were seized in 2015 since its importer, a private firm, had not secured relevant permission at the time.

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Chennai sitting on 700-tonne bomb? Seized containers of ammonium nitrate spark worry
The container with ammonium nitrate is stored in the hazardous materials zone of a private container freight station in Chennai
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Following the revelation that the massive explosion in Lebanese capital Beirut on Tuesday was caused by negligence over the storage of highly explosive material, concerns have been raised in India over nearly 700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate lying in a Chennai warehouse. 

It is learnt that several containers of the explosive chemical were seized in 2015 since its importer, a private firm, had not secured relevant permission at the time. The seized chemicals are valued at around Rs 1.80 crore.

Concerns have been raised from several quarters over the storage of the material as large quantities of stored ammonium nitrate are considered hazardous. Small fires or other such accidents nearby can trigger the chemicals, resulting in massive explosions. 

Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) chief S Ramadoss claimed in a tweet that 740 tonnes of ammonium nitrate was lying at Chennai port and demanded that chemical be disposed of as early as possible to avoid an incident like the one in Lebanon.

"The news that 740 tons of ammonium nitrate ammunition has been stored in a warehouse near the Chennai port for 5 years is very shocking. This ammunition is the cause of the biggest explosion in Lebanon," Ramadoss said in a tweet. 

"There is a risk of a similar explosion due to ammonium nitrate in the Chennai warehouse. To prevent this, the ammonium nitrate ammunition in the Chennai warehouse should be safely disposed of and used for other purposes such as composting," he added.

Officials, however, have said that the chemicals are under safe custody. It is also understood that the chemicals are under e-auction process for disposal, sources told DNA. 

Highly placed sources told DNA that 690 tons of explosive chemical, which were seized by Customs authorities in 2015, are safely stored at a private Container Freight Station (CFS) located in Manali, north of Chennai city.

Ammonium nitrate, widely used in fertilizers and explosives, has been in the news recently after the Lebanese government said the massive blast in the capital was caused by 2,750 tonnes of the chemical. 

A preliminary probe into the Beirut blast indicates years of inaction and negligence over the storage of highly explosive material. Officials meeting at Lebanon's Supreme Defence Council on Wednesday said that the stockpile of the chemical - which was seized from an abandoned ship and stored at the Beirut airport for over six years - was behind the devastating explosion.

In pure form, ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) is a white, crystalline chemical which is soluble in water. It is the main ingredient in the manufacture of commercial explosives used in mining and construction.

Tuesday's massive warehouse explosion sent a devastating blast wave across Beirut, killing at least 137 people and injuring nearly 4,000. Lebanese rescue workers are still seen digging through the mangled wreckage of buildings looking for survivors. 

Officials said the toll was expected to rise as the wreckage is cleared.

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