If the great medical advances of vaccination and antibiotics are the reason that so many of us have survived diseases to be able to read this article, fertilizer is the reason that we didn’t starve to death before we got here. Synthetic fertilizer was one of the great advances of mankind in the last century but is it a fire hazard too?
Most types of fertilizer are not particularly flammable. However, there are many types, and some fertilizers are flammable, such as ammonia compounds.
Let’s take a look at some of the different types and there flammability. Here’s what you need to know.
Your # 1 priority is keeping your family safe. As a firefighter, I recommend everyone has updated smoke detectors that don’t require battery changes, like these ones from Kidde, a fire extinguisher, like this one from Amerex, and a fire escape ladder if you have bedrooms above the first floor, I recommend this one from Hausse.
Also read: What Makes Something Flammable?
Table of Contents
What Is Fertilizer?
Fertilizer is a huge category of products, and it refers to pretty much anything that you can either add to the soil or put directly on to a plant to help the plant grow by feeding it.
Fertilizer can occur naturally (think manure, for example) or it can be made in a factory.
Most forms of fertilizer contain ample supplies of Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorous which are the typical macro nutrients that agribusiness needs for its plants.
And fertilizer can be added to crops in a huge variety of ways, it can be sprayed on, added dry or in pellets, dug in by hand or applied with large agricultural machinery too.
Fertilizer is hugely important to our ability to live on this planet, developments in fertilizers have seen massive increases in the crops that can be harvested from one area of land (one estimate suggests that nitrogen in fertilizers makes land 8 times more productive!).
However, it’s worth noting that fertilizer is not all good news for the planet, in fact, “agricultural runoff” which is the water that comes from fertilized fields can cause huge problems in the ecosystem.
And the use of fertilizers has driven the human population boom of the 20th Century which many would argue has had massively detrimental impacts on the planet.
There is an international “Sustainable Development Goal” which looks to reduce the use of synthetic fertilizer products and focus more on those that are naturally occurring.
What Is It Used For?
Fertilizer is used for fertilizing plants and there are no other common, large scale uses of fertilizer as a generic class.
This doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t individual fertilizers with wider applications, just that “fertilizer” as a group does not.
Is Fertilizer Flammable?
The vast majority of fertilizers are not flammable and are, in fact, quite chemically stable and not particularly easy to burn.
However, it’s worth noting that some fertilizers and particularly the synthetic fertilizers which contain ammonium nitrate are combustible (as opposed to flammable) and, in fact, ammonium nitrate may act as an oxidizing agent in a fire situation which leads to flames of greater intensity.
Is Fertilizer A Fire Hazard?
This means, of course, that most forms of fertilizer are not fire hazards but that some are. You are probably going to be fine with organic fertilizers (such as manure and compost) unless they are kept in huge quantities (in which case, the natural decay of these products might produce methane or other flammable gasses).
But when it comes to synthetic fertilizers, it will be important to read the material safety data sheet that comes with the product and follow the storage and usage instructions carefully.
However, by and large, sensible precautions will eliminate most risks associated with fertilizer as a fire hazard.
Can It Cause An Explosion?
Yes. In fact, in the worst-case scenario, a fertilizer could level part of a city! If you think that’s an exaggeration, it’s not, in 2020 a fire in a Beirut warehouse was mixed with ammonium nitrate, fertilizer, that had been stored there.
The two reacted with incredible intensity and the warehouse exploded, killing and injuring a lot of people and nearly flattening the area in which the warehouse was based.
You can see in this video:
This was due to the property of ammonium nitrate that allows it to act as an accelerant for another fire.
Can Garden Fertilizer Explode?
Yes, if you get enough ammonium nitrate fertilizer together and keep it near other flammable chemicals, it’s entirely possible that it will cause an explosion.
In 2013, just such an explosion took place in Texas, and it killed 15 and injured more than 250 others!
Take a look at what happened:
Sadly, the regulatory environment for the storage and usage of such fertilizers is not as strong as it might be and that means you need to take your own precautions rather than relying on legal compliance.
Why Is Fertilizer Dangerous?
Fertilizer’s main danger to human beings and pets is due to the nitrates in the fertilizer. This may be wonderful food to plants but for animals (including us) it’s potentially toxic.
Synthetic fertilizers have been known to cause skin irritation when handled on a regular basis and if they’re eaten, they can cause poisoning to the individual.
It’s also possible to cause respiratory damage when inhaling fertilizer particles and you should always handle fertilizers carefully and follow any directions for use/application on the packaging or, in an industrial setting, on the material safety data sheet.
At What Temperature Does Ammonium Nitrate Explode?
Ammonium Nitrate begins to melt at around 337 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s 170 degrees Celsius) and once it melts, it also begins to break down.
It is when ammonium nitrate begins to break down that it becomes a powerful oxidizing agent and accelerant.
Can Fertilizers Cause Cancer?
Fertilizers commonly used at home for lawn and garden care do not tend to be carcinogenic.
However, some fertilizers used on an industrial scale may be problematic, the only way to be sure is to check the material safety data sheet.