(Courtesy photo) The Beirut explosion, as well as other serious incidents in the past, should motivate companies to take proactive measures to protect their employees, communities and financial futures. (Courtesy photo)

The recent catastrophic explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, is a tragic but important reminder that companies must comply with safe storage and handling practices for ammonium nitrate (AN) and other hazardous chemical compounds.

AN is a crystalline solid made from ammonium and nitric acid that is widely used in fertilizers and certain explosives. While generally safe and stable, AN can become a ticking time bomb when improperly stored. Confined storage space, exposure to contaminants and high temperatures, from fire or otherwise, can all cause AN to undergo chemical decomposition sufficient to cause an explosion.

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