57 Dead, 18,000 Hospitalized in Japan Heat Wave
While the worst of this summer's heat seems to have passed in the U.S. and Europe, Japan is in the throes of a dangerous heat wave.
The end of the rainy season last week brought a dangerous heat wave that claimed the lives of 57 people in Japan and sent tens of thousands to the island nation's hospitals for heat related illness, the Japan Times reported.
The week that started on July 29 saw triple the number of heat-related hospitalizations as the week before. At 18,347, that's the second highest number since heat-related records started in 2008, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency, as the Japan Times reported.
The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) said the surge in hospitalizations, deaths and people collapsing from heat stroke is partly due to people's bodies, which adapted to the cool weather of the rainy season and did not sweat much, have been unable to cope with the sudden spike in temperature, according to the Japan News.
The JMA said a seasonal rain front lingered over Honshu from late June to mid-July. Plus, a high pressure system in the Sea of Okhotsk also brought cold winds from the north, resulting in cloudy, cool weather across the country, as the Japan News reported. That ended abruptly.
From July 1 to July 23, one person died in Japan from heat stroke. The following week, the official end of the rainy season, saw 11 deaths when temperatures reached 98.6 degrees in central Japan, according to the JMA. Last week when 57 people died, temperatures in Kumagaya City and Isesaki City reached 101 degrees, while Fukushima and Osaka registered readings of 98 and Tokyo 95, according to the UPI.
While Japan suffered from more hot temperatures today, Japanese authorities asked residents to stay cool and hydrated since the heat is expected to last until September.
Last Sunday night, Yohei Yamaguchi, a 28-year-old part-time amusement park worker, died from heatstroke after practicing a dance routine outdoors in a mascot costume on Sunday night, the Japan Times reported.
Yamaguchi was rehearsing on an outdoor stage in Hirakata amusement park for about 20-minutes in a costume that weighed over 35 pounds when he lost consciousness lost consciousness around 8 p.m., according to police and reported by The Asahi Shimbun.
Deadly heat waves like this are becoming an annual occurrence in Japan, where authorities are lobbying to designate public facilities, shops and other places as "temporary rest areas" where people can take respite from the heat. Last summer, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency declared the extreme heat a natural disaster after 65 people died of heat-related medical conditions in one week and temperatures set a new record at 106 degrees Fahrenheit, as Time reported.
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What Is Ammonium Nitrate?<p>Ammonium nitrate is a white crystalline salt that can be fairly cheaply produced from ammonia and nitric acid. It is soluble and often used as fertilizer, as nitrogen is needed for healthy plant development.</p><p>Ammonium nitrate in its pure form is not dangerous. It is, however, heat sensitive. At 32.2 degrees Celsius (89.96 degrees Fahrenheit), ammonium nitrate changes its atomic structure, which in turn changes its chemical properties.</p><p>When large quantities of ammonium nitrate are stored in one place, heat is generated. If the amount is sufficiently vast, it can cause the chemical to ignite. Once a temperature of 170 C is reached, ammonium nitrate starts breaking down, emitting nitrous oxide, better known as laughing gas. Any sudden ignition causes ammonium nitrate to decompose directly into water, nitrogen and oxygen, which explains the enormous explosive power of the salt.</p>
Deadly Disasters<p>As ammonium nitrate is a highly explosive chemical, many countries strictly regulate its use. Over the past 100 years, there have been several disasters involving the chemical.</p><p>In 1921, for example, a massive blast occurred at a BASF chemical plant in Ludwigshafen in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate. About 400 metric tons of a mixture of ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate exploded, killing 559 people and injuring 1,977. The plant was largely destroyed in the blast, which could be heard as far away as Munich, some 300 kilometers (186 miles) distant.</p><p>In 2015, explosions caused by ammonium nitrate ripped through the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/china-convicts-dozens-for-last-years-giant-explosions-in-tianjin/a-36324321" target="_blank">Chinese port city of Tianjin</a>. Eight hundred metric tons of the chemical were said to have been stored along with other substances in a warehouse for hazardous materials. The blasts killed 173 people and destroyed an entire city district.</p><p>Two years earlier, in 2013, an ammonium nitrate explosion occurred at the West Fertilizer Company site in Texas, killing 14 people. And in 2001, 31 people died in Toulouse, France, in an explosion caused by the chemical.</p>
Terrorist Favorite<p>In Germany, the purchase and use of ammonium nitrate is regulated by the explosives act. This is because the cheap, highly explosive and relatively easily obtainable material has in the past been used by terrorists to carry out attacks.</p><p>For example, in 1995, U.S. conspiracy theorist and gun enthusiast Timothy McVeigh used a mixture of ammonium nitrate and other substances to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Norwegian far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik also used ammonium nitrate in a car bomb attack in Oslo in 2011.</p>
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