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Energy & Science

How Fertilizer Is Making Climate Change Worse

Green groups have been pushing for years to get farmers to reduce their use of ammonium nitrate. Now some are starting to listen.

Ammonium nitrate
Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

The explosion that rocked Beirut last month, killing at least 190, was a grim echo of prior accidents caused by the explosive synthetic fertilizer ammonium nitrate.

Tianjin, China, 2015: 173 dead. West, Texas, 2013: 15 dead. Toulouse, France, 2001: 31 dead. Such incidents go back at least as far as 1947, when 581 people were killed in Texas City, Texas. The substance can also be used with destructive intent, as was the case with the antigovernment terrorist Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people in Oklahoma City in 1995.