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When wetted with not less than 10 percent water by mass, picric acid is a yellow mass of moist crystals or a slurry. It is dangerously explosive if allowed to dry out, but wetting reduces the risk of detonation. Picric acid is used in the synthesis of dyes, to manufacture matches and explosives, to make colored glass, to etch copper, and as a drug. The main reason for the decline of picric acid usage has been its toxic nature.
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Nitromethane carries its own oxygen, making it a potential monopropellant that can combust without any air. That’s why the substance was once used as rocket fuel. Nitromethane also has industrial uses as a cleaning solvent and can help in synthesizing pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and coatings.
In the case of a chemical spill, a harmful level of contamination in the air can be quickly reached upon evaporation of nitromethane. Only explosion-proof equipment should be used for collecting and containing the spill.
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Butane is a gaseous fuel derived from petroleum. Butane fuel is produced by the fractional distillation of fossil fuels, meaning it is derived from naturally decaying organic matter. Cigarette lighters, camping, and backyard cooking are the primary uses of butane. Liquefied petroleum gas, which is made by blending butane and petroleum, is used in cars and heating appliances.
Although butane is considered to be a highly flammable gas rather than an explosive, it can easily explode in poorly ventilated areas if leaks go unnoticed and are ignited by spark or flame. For example, on March 6, 2018, a butane hash lab exploded in Gaylord, Michigan. Officials believe that the suspects were making a concentrated substance made from marijuana by blasting the plant with butane.
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Ammonium nitrate is relatively stable under most conditions but explodes violently when it comes in contact with an open flame. This lethal downside also caused the deadliest industrial accident in US history. In 1947, a ship carrying about 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate was set on fire by a carelessly thrown cigarette in the port of Texas City.
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Scientists were experimenting with potassium nitrate (aka saltpeter). One individual decided to mix it with sulfur and charcoal. In a text dated from the mid-ninth century, observers remarked that the scientists’ hands and faces were burned after experimenting with the black powder. It had resulted in smoke and flames and even burned down the house in which they were working.
Gunpowder is considered to be a “low” explosive that rapidly burns in a tightly packed, confined space.
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Lead styphnate is a primary explosive used in noncorrosive percussion primers, bridgewire-initiated compositions, detonators, and stab-initiated devices. Nearly all US commercial primer applications use this substance. Lead styphnate is also widely used in military electric initiators, where it accepts the transfer of heat from a bridgewire, deflagrates, and initiates energetic outputs.
Lead styphnate is sensitive to fire and static electricity and can produce a sizable explosion even in small amounts. Static discharges from the human body can make the compound spontaneously explode if dry.
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The correct chemical name of acetone peroxide is triacetone triperoxide (TATP). It has explosive power close to that of TNT, with high sensitivity to heat, friction, and mechanical shock. Reportedly, TATP is known as “Mother of Satan” among Islamic extremists for its devastating instability and the dozens of deaths caused by mishandling the substance.
Common household ingredients—such as bleach, antiseptics, paint thinners, and powerful drain unblockers—can produce white acetone peroxide crystals when mixed in the right proportions. It is also used to make cosmetics and first aid products. With its easy availability, acetone peroxide has become the suicide bomber’s weapon of choice.
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Nitrocellulose is produced by nitric acid reacting with cellulose. It is highly flammable and exhibits low toxicity. Nitrocellulose is classified as an explosive if the nitrogen content exceeds 12.6 percent.
The compound has been used since the 19th century in paint, plastics, propellants, nail polish, fireworks, pharmaceuticals, explosives, coatings, Ping-Pong balls, smokeless gunpowder, flash paper, and more. Nitrocellulose was also used in the early days of photography, X-ray, and film production.
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Undiluted erythritol tetranitrate can be exploded by excessive heat or percussion. The chemical is usually diluted with lactose to minimize explosion risks. Due to ease of production and high availability of erythritol, a natural sweetener, erythritol tetranitrate is commonly made at home by amateur experimenters.
The substance acts as a vasodilator, helping to widen blood vessels. Erythritol tetranitrate was also the active ingredient in the original sustained-release tablets called “nitroglyn.”