Homemade chemical bombs (HCBs) are made from commonly found chemicals. To determine the number of events involving HCBs and describe the factors associated with them, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) analyzed data from its surveillance system that tracks spills and leaks of hazardous substances.
An HCB is a form of improvised explosive device. HCBs are hazardous and especially dangerous if detonated in public areas. Increasing awareness of HCBs and their dangers (particularly during summer months) among first-responders, parents, school staff members and others who work with youths might help reduce injuries associated with HCBs.
The results show that 134 events involving HCBs were reported from 15 states and resulted in adverse health effects in 53 persons during 2003–2011. The majority of injured persons were youths, involving cases of respiratory symptoms, burns, and skin irritation.
The most common chemicals in these events were acids or bases mixed with a metal. Commercial household products, such as toilet bowl cleaners containing sulfuric or hydrochloric acid or drain openers containing sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide, were the most common sources of acids and bases. Aluminum was the most common metal. One event involved carbon dioxide (i.e., dry ice) as the main bomb ingredient. Most HCB explosions were reported in schools, mailboxes, and residential backyards. Facility evacuations ordered by an official occurred in 17 (13%) of the 134 events. Some evacuations resulted in significant disruptions; four events, all in schools, involved evacuations of 600 or more persons for up to 8 hours.
These have also occurred in business settings. CNN reported on June 2 that a Disneyland employee had been charged with setting off two HCBs at the theme park. These HCBs were built using dry ice. No one was injured in the two explosions. In other bombings, there have been injuries. The latest study cites an incident in a school where a janitor found students mixing chemicals. The container exploded, releasing chlorine gas, injuring the janitor, 12 students and three staff members. The incident illustrates the findings of both studies that HCBs occur most often near schools and are produced by juveniles.
Homemade chemical bombs can cause serious injuries. If someone discovers what they think might be a homemade chemical bomb, they should leave it alone and contact authorities.