Explosives are reactive substances that contain amounts of potential energy that if released under certain conditions can make things go KABOOM! It is interesting to note that there are explosive ingredients contained in everyday items although they are found in small and safe amounts. However, the use of large amounts of these chemicals can be catastrophic. There have been several reports of cases where people use everyday products to make explosives that have been quite destructive. Let’s explore 5 of these explosive ingredients.
1. Ammonium Nitrate
Ammonium nitrate is an industrial chemical used in fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides. It is relatively safe if it is stored properly and remains uncontaminated. If large amounts of this chemical is exposed to intense heat, it can become violently explosive. Explosions can be triggered if ammonium nitrate is stored close to fuel in poorly ventilated rooms. In 1995, farm fertilizer packed on a truck was used in a terrorist attack in Oklahoma City, killing many people. Today, countries have laws regulating the sale of ammonium nitrate.
Butane is a chemical found in products such as aerosol sprays, cigarette lighters and barbecue grills. It is produced by fractional distillation of fossil fuel. Liquefied petroleum gas is a mixture of butane and petroleum and is used in heating appliances. Butane is highly flammable and can become explosive if stored in poorly ventilated rooms, if there are leaks and if it is ignited by flames or sparks. In 2018, a butane hash oil lab exploded in Michigan causing injuries and significant damage to property.
3. Picric Acid
Picric acid is an organic compound used in electric batteries, matches and to manufacture colored glass and dyes. Picric acid also has antiseptic and astringent properties and is used in some anesthetic and burn ointments. Laboratories also use it to test for creatinine. Picric acid is a very combustible material and during World War I, it was used extensively in bombs and grenades. It is a yellow mass of moist crystals but when dry, the crystals become unstable and are sensitive to shock, friction and heat and can create a powerful explosion. As such, it must always be kept wet with a minimum of 10% water.
Nitrocellulose is a compound which is produced by treating common cellulose with nitric acid. This compound is found in propellants, paint, nail polish, plastic, leather finishings, vanish and resins. Nitrocellulose is also used in manufacturing explosives. If the content of nitrogen in nitrocellulose is greater than 12.6%, it is considered to be explosive. In 2015, there was a devastating explosion in a chemical factory in Tianjin, China which was a result of nitrocellulose being ignited. This caused the death of a few hundred people and extensive damage to property.
Nitroglycerin is a nitrate vasodilator drug used in medicine to treat hypertension, chest pain and heart failure. This drug, which is available in spray, tablet and intravenous forms, helps widen blood vessels in the body. In spite of being so useful, it is a powerful explosive which is used in most forms of dynamite and is combined with nitrocellulose in propellants for rockets and missiles. Ascanio Sobrero was the first to produce nitroglycerin in 1846 making this explosive even stronger than black powder. Alfred Nobel manufactured it on a large scale mainly for the purpose of mining.
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