Pipe bombs and chemical-reaction bombs remain the most common bombs made and detonated by juveniles throughout the United States. Historically, the pipe bomb and its little brother, the CO2 cartridge bomb, have been popular since the 1940s and 1950s. New York's "Mad Bomber," George Metesky, popularized the large, galvanized-steel pipe bomb, planting and setting off 32 devices throughout New York City from 1940 1956. Unabomber Ted Kaczynski duplicated the Mad Bomber's reign of terror from the late 1970s into the middle 1990s.
During the late 1980s, new types of chemical-reaction bombs, the dry ice and acid bombs, showed up at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Initially developed as prank devices, these types of bombs have since caused two known fatalities and countless serious injuries, mostly to the bombers making the devices. Bomb/arson units respond to these chemical-reaction bombs regularly, which even show up on elementary-school campuses. Although officers usually recognize the danger of the pipe bomb, they sometimes improperly dismiss chemical-reaction bombs as harmless pranks.
Bottom line: You must take care when dealing with these devices because they can kill or seriously maim humans. This article describes dry-ice, acid and CO2 cartridge bombs, provides bomb identification tips and discusses some basic patrol-officer tactics.
One of the simplest types of bombs, the dry-ice bomb falls under the general classification of chemically reactive destructive devices covered in most state penal codes. Offenders construct the device by placing dry ice in a sealable plastic container, such as a 2-liter soda bottle, and adding water. A process called sublimation occurs, in which the dry ice, consisting of solidified and compressed CO2, vaporizes to produce a quantity of CO2 gas that ultimately exceeds the tensile strength of the container. An explosion results that sends the plastic and any surrounding shrapnel, such as pieces of a metal mailbox, out in a radial pattern from the point of detonation. The reaction time usually runs from 30 60 minutes, depending on the outside temperature.
Consider any soda-type bottle that contains a liquid inconsistent with the label a potential explosive device. If the bottle looks like it's bulging, it may be on the verge of exploding. Set up a perimeter and evacuate the affected area. Call a bomb/arson unit in your area regardless of whether the device has exploded.
Acid bombs also typically consist of 2-liter plastic soda bottles. Bomb-makers pour 4 8 ounces of hydrochloric acid (often muriatic pool acid) into the bottle, stuff a tube of regular aluminum foil into the bottle and tightly screw on the cap.
The reaction time occurs much quicker than the dry-ice cook-off. Within 20 30 seconds, an exothermic chemical reaction occurs, causing an excess pressurization of the bottle and a violent explosion. The fragmentation and acid will cover a radius area of 50 feet. As with the dry-ice bomb, consider any soda-type bottle containing a liquid inconsistent with the label a potential explosive device.
Officers typically deal with acid bombs after the explosion due to the short cook-off time. Remember: A key ingredient in these bombs is acid, so use extreme care when dealing with these devices the residual acid can cause severe burns. Persons exposed to any of the acid will probably experience a burning sensation. Flush the exposed area with large amounts of water and get them medical care as soon as possible. Again, call a bomb/arson unit in your area whether the device has exploded or not.
CO2 Cartridge Bombs
The CO2 device, commonly referred to as a kid bomb or cricket, also falls under the destructive-device classification in most state penal codes.
Bomb-makers construct this device from a small CO2 cylinder or cartridge of the type commonly used in BB and pellet guns, a swimmer's life vest or seltzer bottles. Makers vent the CO2 cartridge by punching a hole in a lightweight metal closing-disk set in the neck of the cartridge, then enlarge the hole with a nail or ice pick until it's large enough to admit a length of firecracker or model-rocket fuse. They then fill the empty CO2 cartridge with a fine grade of black powder or pistol powder, insert the fuse through the hole and typically secure the fuse in place with black electrician tape or epoxy glue.
When detonated, the confined powder explodes, ripping the cartridge body and sending red-hot fragments outward at up to 4,000 feet per second. Typically constructed by novice bomb-makers, CO2 cartridge bombs sometimes kill the maker when a short fuse doesn't allow them enough time to avoid the vessel's fragmentation.
Don't assume an unexploded CO2 device lacks danger. Set up your perimeter, evacuate the affected area and call an expert to deal with the device. Don't handle the device; resist the temptation to move it. Remember: These devices usually contain gunpowder, a substance that can prove very unstable under the wrong circumstances.
When officers don't contact specialists after responding to a dry-ice, acid or CO2 bomb call, some liability may arise. Although an officer might be tempted to treat these potentially serious cases as malicious mischief, they hold significant potential for serious injury and destruction. The remnants of an exploded bomb create a hazard. And, sometimes officers misidentify an acid bomb as a dry-ice bomb, which can present serious liability exposure when innocent third parties are burned or injured by coming in contact with the remaining acid after an officer dismisses the incident as a harmless prank. Therefore, you must consult a person with specialized training in these incidents, whether or not the device has already exploded.
Be careful out there. Devices that seem relatively harmless can kill or seriously injure you or an innocent party.
This article was adapted from a training bulletin written by Sergeant Conrad Grayson, supervisor of the San Diego County Sheriff's Bomb/Arson Unit, Emergency Services Division. Grayson has worked in law enforcement for 38 years and has more than 28 years of experience dealing with explosive devices. He's often called to major incidents across the country to assist in complex investigations.