Public Health

MacGyver Says: Don't Mix Teenage Boys And Homemade Bombs

Soda bottles and household chemicals are sometimes used to make low-power bombs.

Soda bottles and household chemicals are sometimes used to make low-power bombs. iStockphoto.com hide caption

itoggle caption iStockphoto.com

They're sometimes called MacGyver bombs, in an homage to the 1980s TV hero who could make a bomb out of everyday items like a cold pill, blow an escape route through a wall and save the day.

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would probably call these homemade chemical bombs "stupid things that teenage boys come up with to injure themselves and others."

The public health agency has been tracking the misadventures of amateur MacGyver bomb makers, and it is not amused.

In a review of 134 incidents with homemade chemical bombs reported in 15 states from 2003 to 2011, the CDC found that 16 percent caused breathing problems and injuries like burns, skin irritation and wounds.

That's because the low-power bombs are usually made with caustic household chemicals like toilet bowl cleaner or drain cleaner, which are put in a plastic soda bottle, sealed and shaken.

Gas caused by the chemical reaction inside the soda bottle expands and ka-wham!

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Kids, do not try this at home. Leave it to MacGyver.

All great fun, unless you happen to be holding the bottle.

In one case, a high school janitor interrupted a group of students making a bomb with calcium hypochlorite, a swimming pool chemical. When the janitor picked up the bottle it exploded, releasing chlorine gas. Chlorine gas was used as a chemical weapon in World War I, and is considered an industrial hazard and potential terrorist weapon. Exposure can cause permanent lung damage and death.

In that incident, the janitor threw up and became ill, 12 students and three school employees were treated for respiratory problems. The high school had to be evacuated so the hazardous materials squad could clean up.

In another case, a man picked up an innocuous-looking bottle he found in his yard. It suddenly exploded. The man suffered wounds to his hand and chemical burns.

Overall, 9 percent of the injured people had to be admitted to the hospital for treatment; 40 percent had to be decontaminated at the scene or at a hospital. The findings were reported in today's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

To avoid these kinds of problems, the CDC recommends calling the local bomb squad to handle or neutralize homemade chemical bombs rather than taking the DIY route. Contaminated clothing should be removed immediately, and skin that comes in contact with the chemicals should be rinsed with lots of water for three to five minutes.

Incidents peaked during the summer months, and most of the cases involved teenage boys.

Guys, take note. Angus MacGyver never injured himself, his friends, or the high school janitor with his contraptions. Only the bad guys.

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