Explosives Composition Report
Amatol is a mixture of Ammonium Nitrate (see below) and Trinitrotoluene (see
below) in the ratio of 80/20 percent. It is a highly efficient explosive that has a
price advantage in its manufacture. Amatol has all the properties of both of its
constituents. Health concerns are the same as for both chemicals.
2. ANFO (Ammonium Nitrate/Fuel Oil)
This explosive is a mixture of 94% Ammonium Nitrate and 6% Fuel Oil (or
Diesel). It is an extremely powerful explosive that gives of large quantities of
nitrous fumes in the form of Nitrous Oxide. This explosive must be initiated using
Detonating Cord (see below) or Gelignite or some other Nitroglycerine based
explosive. Ammonium Nitrate can be further enhanced to improve its insensitivity
with Kieselguhr (Diatomaceous Earth) thus making a much safer product.
Ammonium Nitrate is now being mixed with other chemicals to produce new
ANFO like explosives. Examples of these chemicals are TNT-Water or
Ammonium Nitrate/Molasses/Water to form slurry type explosives that flow easily
into blast holes.
Inhalation: (for Ammonium Nitrate)
May cause irritation to the respiratory tract; symptoms may include coughing, sore
throat, and shortness of breath. At high temperatures, exposure to toxic Nitrogen
Oxides decomposition products can quickly cause respiratory problems. Inhalation
of large amounts causes systemic acidosis and abnormal hemoglobin.
Ingestion: Large oral doses of nitrates may cause dizziness, abdominal pain,
vomiting, bloody diarrhoea, weakness, convulsions, and collapse. Harmful if
swallowed. May cause methemoglobinemia resulting in cyanosis.
Skin Contact: Causes irritation to skin. Symptoms include redness, itching, and
Eye Contact: Causes irritation, redness, and pain.
Chronic Exposure: Small repeated oral doses of nitrates may cause weakness,
depression, headache, and mental impairment.
3. ASA Mixture
ASA is a mixture of Lead Azide, Lead Styphnate and Aluminium Powder. This
combination is extremely sensitive being about 50 times more sensitive than TNT.
It is used as an initiating explosive to fire larger and stronger explosive products. A
long and convoluted chemical process involving Sodium metal, Ammonia, Nitrous
Oxide and Lead Acetate is used to manufacture Lead Azide. The resultant chemical
is very sensitive and is modified with Lead Styphnate to make it more stable.
Aluminium powder is added to increase the temperature of the initiated explosion
to ensure a flame hot enough for a complete detonation of the main explosive.
ASA may have graphite mixed with it to increase sensitivity.
Health Hazard Data for Lead Azide.
Health hazard acute and chronic: acute: eyes: may cause irritation, possible corneal
injury. Skin: may cause irritation & dermatitis. Inhalation: may cause nasal &
respiratory irritation. Ingestion may cause fatal poisoning. Toxicity of Lead Azide
has been linked to Azomide radical as well as presence of Lead. Major symptoms
of Azide poisoning are severe hypotension & paralysis. (effects of overexposure).
Signs/Symptoms of Overexposure are symptoms of lead poisoning including loss
of appetite, anaemia, sleep disorders, & fatigue. Lead appears on the US Navy
Occupational Chemical Reproductive Hazard List. Consult appropriate health
professionals concerning latest hazard list information & safe handling & exposure
Signs, Symptoms and Effects of Exposure to Lead Styphnate
Inhalation Acute: May cause irritation to nose, throat, upper respiratory tract and
lungs. The irritant effects may lead to bronchitis. Headache, a fall in blood
pressure, weakness, convulsions, and collapse may occur. Severe poisoning may
impair vision by damaging the optic nerve. Chronic: Inhalation may cause damage
to central and peripheral nerves, blood, kidneys, and the foetus. Male reproductive
function may be impaired. Damage to nerves can result in reduction in motor nerve
and muscle function. Anaemia may result due to interference by lead of
haemoglobin synthesis. Lead has been identified as an animal carcinogen; it may
produce cancer in humans. Chronic exposure may lead to lead poisoning, known as
"Plumbism", causing gingival lead line and an accumulation in body tissues.
Skin Acute: Irritation. Although highly unlikely, this material can be absorbed
through the skin to produce effects similar to those listed for acute inhalation
exposure. Chronic: The effects would be similar to those listed under chronic
Eye Irritation with conjunctival redness and discharge. There are no reports of
permanent damage from exposure directly to the eye.
Ingestion Acute: The effects would be similar to those listed under acute
inhalation exposure in addition to gastrointestinal tract irritation. Chronic: The
effects would be similar to those listed under chronic inhalation exposure.
Medical Conditions Aggravated by Exposure to Lead Styphnate
Anaemia, cardiovascular and respiratory disease
Acute Target Organ Toxicity: Damage to central nervous system, blood, lungs and
Chronic Target Organ Toxicity: Inhalation of lead can cause damage to the blood,
central and peripheral nervous systems, and kidney. Lead inhibits the production of
haemoglobin, the material in the blood that carries oxygen. Anaemia may result.
Lead also causes damage to peripheral nerves resulting in a decrease in motor
nerve and muscle function.
Reproductive and Developmental Toxicity: Lead has been shown to affect foetal
development and reduce male reproductive function. Lead crosses the placenta and
may affect the foetus causing birth defects, mental retardation, behavioral
disorders, and death during the first year of childhood.
4. CE (Composition Explosive)
CE is an explosive that is used as an intermediary between the detonator and the
main charge. It is used to boost the shockwave of the detonator so that it will
initiate the more insensitive explosive. CE is Coal Tar based explosive via Nitro-
Benzene and Aniline. Its chemical name is N-Nitro-N-Methyl-2,4,6-Trinitraniline,
known as Tetryl. It is made by the action of Nitrating acid on a solution of
Dimethyl Aniline in concentrated Sulphuric Acid.
Effects on Humans:
Tetryl is a potent skin sensitizer, a respiratory sensitizer, and an irritant of the skin
and upper respiratory tract in humans. Tetryl is also toxic to the liver and blood on
chronic exposure. Initially, Tetryl produces acute irritation of the nasal and
pharyngeal mucous membranes, with coughing and nosebleeds; however, in some
instances, these effects may not occur until as late as the third month of workplace
exposure [ACGIH 1986, p. 568.1(88)]. Irritation may progress to itching, swelling,
redness, and oedema of the eyelids, nasal folds, cheeks and neck; papules and
vesicles may also develop. The severest form of sensitization dermatitis may
involve massive generalized oedema with partial obstruction of the trachea caused
by swelling of the tongue [Hathaway, Proctor, Hughes, and Fischman 1991, p.
541]. Most of these effects occur between the 10th and 20th days of exposure, and
removal from exposure leads to rapid abatement of mild symptoms and, after 3 to
10 days, disappearance of physical signs [Hathaway, Proctor, Hughes, and
Fischman 1991, p. 541]. In some workers, exposure to Tetryl dust has caused
asthma-like symptoms of severe coughing; in such cases, removal from exposure is
necessary [ACGIH 1986, p. 568.1(88)]. Chronic exposure to unspecified
concentrations of Tetryl causes systemic poisoning that is manifested as digestive
disorders, chronic hepatitis, and central nervous system irritation [Hathaway,
Proctor, Hughes, and Fischman 1991, p. 541]. Anaemia of either the marrow
depression or deficiency type has also been observed in chronically exposed
workers [Hathaway, Proctor, Hughes, and Fischman 1991, p. 541]. Tetryl has been
reported to cause irreversible liver damage and death following heavy exposure; no
cases of systemic poisoning have been reported at concentrations below 1.5 mg/m3
[Hathaway, Proctor, Hughes, and Fischman 1991, p. 541].
Cordite is manufactured by mixing dried Guncotton (see below) with
Nitroglycerine (see below), by hand, in a rubber lined canvas bag. The paste is then
mechanically kneaded for several hours in acetone. Mineral jelly is added and the
kneading repeated. This dough is then formed into the types of products required.
Cordite is used, primarily, in rifle cartridges, artillery shells and solid rocket
motors. When burnt they produce large quantities of Carbon Dioxide, Carbon
Monoxide, Steam, Nitrogen and Oxides of Nitrogen. Some of these chemicals
recombine to form Nitrogen Peroxide. Small quantities of Vaseline and
Diphenylamine are added to stabilise Cordite. Further moderants such as Camphor,
Castor Oil, or wax are sometimes added to reduce the speed of the explosion.
6. Cordtex and Primacord (Detonating Cord)
Cordtex and Primacord are both names for the same product. They are essentially a
tube with a core of Penta-erythri-tetranitrate (PETN)(see below). This is an
extremely powerful explosive that detonates at the rate of 6500 - 7000 metres per
second. The casing (or tube) is made from an inner core of textile braid followed
by a plastic (Polyethylene) jacket. Wrapped around this is another close woven
7. Fulminated Mercury
Mercury Fulminate is a salt of an organic acid. It is used in cap compositions for
the ignition of propellants and in detonators to initiate explosive charges. Mercury
Fulminate is prepared by dissolving Mercury in concentrated Nitric Acid and
pouring the warm solution into Alcohol. When the chemical reaction ceases grey
crystals of Mercury Fulminate will settle out. When dried these crystals are very
sensitive to shock, heat, friction, electric spark or when contacted by other
chemicals, particularly metals.
8. Gelignite and Derivatives
Gelignite and its derivatives are a mixture of Nitroglycerine, Collodion or Gun
Cotton, Potassium Nitrate, Wood Meal, Sodium Carbonate and Kieselguhr
(Diatomaceous Earth). Dynamites are basically the same products made by
different manufacturers. AN Gelignite has the Potassium Nitrate replaced by
Ammonium Nitrate. Similarly SN Gelignites have Sodium Nitrate in place of the
Potassium Nitrate. To take into account the freezing aspects of Gelignite (the
Nitroglycerine becomes more sensitive) other antifreeze chemicals are added.
These include Nitroglycol, Diglycerine Tetranitrate and some Nitrotoluenes.
Effects of overexposure to Gelignite and its derivatives
Ingestion, inhalation or absorption through skin contact may cause headache,
nausea, blood vessel dilation, vomiting and convulsions. In extreme cases, death
may occur. Gelignite is a slight irritant to the skin and eyes. If ingested, medical
advice should be sort if persistent headaches or chest pains occur. The Nitric Esters
are coronary vasodilators.
9. Guncotton (Wet & Dry)
Guncotton is made chiefly from cotton waste, a by-product of cotton spinning
mills. The cotton is cleaned with Coal Tar Benzene and successively treated with
alkaline, bleaching and acid liquors. The cotton is then nitrated using a very strong
Nitric Acid bath. When the reaction stops in the nitrating bath, the cotton is
removed and cleaned thoroughly with a water bath. The newly formed guncotton
tends to be unstable. It is further boiled in water to increase its stability. This is wet
Guncotton and must be kept moist.
Dry Guncotton is fairly sensitive and must be handled with due care. It is used
extensively in torpedoes and mines, both aerial and naval. However, it is being
replaced by more stable explosives in these applications.
Nitrocellulose is very similar to Guncotton. However the degree of Nitrating is not
to the same extent. It therefore contains a mixture of Cellulose Trin itrate (Gun
cotton) and Cellulose Dinitrate (Collodion cotton). The chemical mixture does not
explode, but burns very fiercely producing a large amount of gas in the form of
Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide and Oxides of Nitrogen. It is commonly used
in military applications for ammunition in small arms, larger calibre weapons and
special engine starting cartridges.
Nitroglycerine (or more correctly Glyceryl Trinitrate) is made from slowly pouring
Glycerine into a prepared bath of concentrated Nitric and Sulphuric Acids. This
product is the basis of most of the military and commercial explosives in use today.
Nitroglycerine is very poisonous if taken internally. Contact with the skin or by
inhalation will result in a "fracteur headache", a very severe form of Nitroheadache.
The product will also cause drowsiness. Nitroglycerine is too sensitive
to handle. It is, therefore, gelatinised by addition of other chemicals to desensitise
it and make it safer to handle. When Nitroglycerine explodes it releases large
quantities of Carbon Dioxide, Water, Nitrogen, Oxygen and some Oxides of
12. PE 3 & PE4 (Plastic Explosives)
PE3 & PE4 are highly plasticised RDX (see below) based explosives. The
plasticisers in the explosive consist of 80% liquid Paraffin and 20% Lithium
Sterate. Added to these is 1% Pentaerthritol Diolate (Lead free). They are used in
exactly the same way as Plastergel (see below). They are restricted to use by the
military forces only. In addition to the properties Nitroglycerine based explosives,
they are also water proof and resistant. This enables them to be used underwater.
See other Nitroglycerine based explosives for any hazards or safety information.
Pentaerythritol Tetranitrate (PETN) is a compound commonly used industrially in
the manufacture of detonating fuse and therapeutically as a vasodilator. PETN is
prepared by nitration of Pentaerythritol in the presence of highly concentrated
Sulphuric Acid. Chemically it is a tetragonal holohedra from Acetone plus
Alcohol. It is soluble in acetone. Practically insoluble in water (1.5 /ml) and
sparingly soluble in alcohol, ether. Does not reduce Fehling's solution (difference
in Erythrityl Tetranitrate). Caution: Explodes on percussion. More sensitive to
shock than TNT. For medicinal purposes it is diluted with an inert ingredient,
usually lactose, to prevent accidental explosions. Uses are mainly in a manufacture
of detonating fuse (Primacord); a waterproof textile filled with powdered PETN.
Therapeutic Category: Vasodilator.
In cases where the explosive is "home made", PETN is prepared by combining
Pentaerythritol (PE), Potassium Nitrate (KNO3) and Sodium Bicarbonate (baking
soda) in the presence of Concentrated Sulphuric Acid (+90%)
Signs and symptoms of overexposure for PETN
Eyes: Dust will irritate.
Skin: PETN: May cause skin irritation.
Skin Absorption: Not Applicable
Ingestion: PETN: Human systemic effects by ingestion include dermatitis. Other
effects are similar to nitroglycerin, for example, headaches, weakness, and fall in
blood pressure. PETN is a vasodilator.
Inhalation: PETN: Effects are similar to nitroglycerin, for example, headaches,
weakness, and fall in blood pressure. PETN is a vasodilator. If detonation fumes
are inhaled, remove victim to fresh air. If not breathing, give artificial respiration.
Seek medical attention.
Carcinogenicity: Not listed by NTP, IARC, or OSHA. Irritant: Causes irritation to
skin and eyes. General Toxicity: Moderately toxic by ingestion. Vasodilator. PETN
can lower blood pressure. LD50 intraperitoneal mouse dose >5 gm/kg causes
arteriolar or venous dilation. TDLo oral man, 1669 mg/kg/8Y-C, dermatitis after
14. Picric Acid
Picric acid was used quite extensively in aerial munitions up to 1960. From then
EOD operatives have come in regular contact with this chemical. Picric Acid
(common name Lyddite), or 2,4,6-Trinitrophenol is derived from the Coal Tar
chemical Phenol (or Hydroxy-benzene). Because of the usefulness of Coal Tar
based chemicals, Picric Acid is an explosive, a dye and was a treatment remedy for
burns. Picric Acid is prepared by the mixing of Phenol in concentrated Sulphuric
Acid. The resulting Suphonated Phenol is further treated with the addition of
concentrated Nitric Acid. Crystalline Picric Acid is deposited, washed in cold
water. The final phase is the installation of the chemical in munition casings. This
phase is critical in that, should the acid come into contact with any metal, the metal
salt forms and any salt of Picric Acid is extremely sensitive and libel to detonate.
All munitions have to be coated on the inside with a thick layer of varnish.
Effects of Acute Exposure
Ingestion, Inhalation, Skin, Eye
Causes severe eye irritation. Causes skin irritation. May cause yellow discoloration
of the skin and hair. May cause allergic skin reaction (dermatitis, eczema, oedema,
desquamation, etc.). Readily absorbed through skin. Inhalation and ingestion can
cause irritation to mucous membranes and upper respiratory tract. May cause
coughing, fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, weakness, muscle pain, ulceration,
bronchitis, nephritis, liver, kidney and blood damage, convulsions, collapse. May
cause sensitization by inhalation. Toxic! Causes gastrointestinal irritation. May
cause headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fever, prostration, stupor, diarrhoea,
abdominal pain, hematuria, nephritis, anuria, polyuria, hepatitis, albuminuria, liver,
kidney and blood damage, convulsions, collapse.
Effects of Chronic Overexposure
May cause dermatitis, skin eruptions, anaemia, diarrhoea, ulceration of the eyes,
central nervous system depression (headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, etc.),
jaundice and severe nephritis, liver, kidney and blood damage. Suspect mutagen.
Carcinogenic effects: Not available. Teratogenic effects: Not available. Toxicity of
the product to the reproductive system: Not available. To the best of our
knowledge the chronic toxicity of this substance has not been fully investigated.
A gelatinous, Nitroglycerine based explosive that has similar qualities to Gelignite
and Dynamite. It has improved power over these two products and is used where a
very powerful, but limited explosive is required.
This explosive is a high strength, high velocity gelatinous, Nitroglycerine based
explosive very similar to Gelignite. It is used for applications where a high degree
of plasticity is required. The gelatine and plasticizers are added to make it pliable
and able to be moulded into any shape.
17. Quarry Monobel and Derivatives
Quarry Monobel is a non-gelatinous explosive used in the mining, particularly in
quarry work. However, with their dryness they cannot be used in areas where there
is moisture. It is a Nitroglycerine based explosive with most of the characteristics
of Gelignite. It is, however, quite a bit less powerful than Gelignite.
RDX (Research Department Explosive), known as Cyclonite or
Cyclomethylenetrinitramine, is an Aniline based explosive. It is regarded as a
descendant of Coal, although not from Coal Tar. Cyclonite descends from Coal via
Coke - Water Gas - Methyl Alcohol - Formaldehyde - Hexamine to Cyclonite. It is
prepared by the action of very concentrated Nitric Acid on a white crystalline
substance called Hexamine. It is an explosive of unusual power and brisance, and
has been of great use in bursting charges, bla sting and initiatory explosives. When
detonated it gives vast amounts of Carbon Monoxide, Carbon Dioxide, Water,
Hydrogen, and Nitrogen and, under certain conditions, Oxides of Nitrogen.
19. Safety Fuse (Blue and Yellow Sump)
Safety fuse is a fuse for blasting that burns rather than detonates. It does not
contain it's own means of ignition, but, is of such strength and construction, and
contains an explosive of such quantity that the burning of the fuse will not
communicate laterally with other like fuses. The core of these fuses is black
powder. Black Powder (or Gunpowder) is a mixture of Carbon, finely ground
Sulphur and ground Potassium Nitrate. The burning of Black Powder produces
Potassium Sulphide, Carbon Dioxide and Nitrogen. It further produces Carbon
Monoxide, Sulphurated Hydrogen, Methane, Hydrogen, potassium Carbonate and
Potassium Sulphate, in small quantities. The only difference between Blue and
Yellow Sump Fuse is the burning rate of the Black Powder. The black Powder is
wrapped in a sleeve of cotton that is made resistant to oil and water.
20. SheetX 2
SheetX or Formex F4 is composed of PETN (see above) and Rubber (89% / 11%).
It is made in sheet or plate form and is used for various anti-terrorist operations. It
has the characteristic feel and looks like chewed chewing gum.
This malleable, easy-to-use explosive was first made in Czechoslovakia, and its
manufacture continues in the Czech Republic today, though it is by no means a
major source of national income. A favorite with terrorists because it is often
overlooked by X-ray machines at airports and is relatively stable, Semtex is
difficult to detect using electronic chemical “sniffers.” Only trained dogs seem to
have any luck in detecting its weak odour. Like its American-made counterpart C-
4, Semtex in and of itself is relatively harmless and can be easily handled. A
blasting cap or piece of detonating cord is required to set it off. The two main
components of Semtex, RDX (Cyclonite) and PETN (Pentaerythritetetranitrate)
(both see above), are both powerful explosives in their own right. To these two
explosives is added Rubber and Paraffin Oil to give it its malleability. .
Thermite is essentially a non-explosive that is used in incendiary bombs. The bomb
contains an incidental explosive charge to ignite the Thermite. This material is
made from finely ground Ferric Oxide and finely ground Aluminium powder. The
explosive charge disrupts a container with separated compartments of Barium
Peroxide and Magnesium powder. When mixed the two chemicals spontaneously
ignite producing a temperature capable of igniting the Thermite. When ignited by
the explosive charge and the ignition train, the mixture gives rise to a highly
exothermic reaction, the metallic Iron being liberated in an intensely hot molten
condition including fuming. Large amounts of Aluminium Oxide and Iron result
from the reaction.
22. Torpex 5
Torpex is a mixture of 37-41% TNT, 41-45% RDX (Cyclonite, Cyclomethylene
Trinitramine) and 18% Aluminum. Torpex is attractive because of the increased
explosive energy and higher detonation velocity of RDX as compared to TNT and
the prolongation of the pressure wave by the aluminum. On a weight basis, Torpex
is conservatively estimated to be about 50% more effective than TNT as an
underwater explosive against ships. However, Torpex is more sensitive than TNT
and RDX is expensive and difficult to make safely. Emissions from this explosive
are basically the same as for its constituents.
1. Blaster's Handbook 15th Ed (1969) Du Pont de Nemours & company Inc
Wilmington Delaware, USA.
2. Explosives (1943) by John Read Pelican Books Melbourne.
3. Explosives - Development and Use (1969) Du Pont de Nemours & company Inc
Wilmington Delaware, USA.
4. Explosives for Engineers 2nd Ed (1966) by C. E. Gregory University of Queensland
Press St Lucia, Queensland.
5. Primacord Detonating Cord 8th printing (1963) Ensign Bickford Company
Simsbury, Connecticut, USA.
6. Explosive User's Guide 3rd Ed (Rev) 1970 Imperial Chemical Industries of
Australia and New Zealand Sydney.
7. Handbook of Blasting Tables (1971) Imperial Chemical Industries of Australia and
New Zealand Sydney.
Other information about hazards has been taken from the Material Safety Data Sheets
where they are available. Private training notes were also used to cover some of the lesserknown