Written collaboratively by Norman Spencer and Paul Smolen M.D.
Experts at the CDC are recognizing a growing pattern of behavior among children, experimentation with homemade chemical explosions. Picture this, it is almost the end of the school day and class is almost over. Tired excited students wait eagerly for the bell to ring. As the students line the hallways ready to evacuate, one sees smoke billowing from a neighboring hallway. Everyone begins to panic, assuming the building is on fire but this is not smoke from an accidental fire, rather this is the result of a nasty prank designed to end school a little early. Experts are recognizing this behavior as a growing trend; students using homemade chemical bombs (HCBs) for school pranks and other school-age shenanigans. Unfortunately many of these young pranksters do not understand all the dangers associated with these seemingly comical pranks.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a federal government agency, probed data related to HCBs incidents from 2003-2011. A subsequent report found out of 134 HCBs-related events, 21 events (16%) resulted in ‘adverse’ health effects. These ‘adverse’ health effects included serious burns and respiratory problems. As you might have guessed, the majority of the injured were youths.
What exactly are HBCs and why are they so dangerous? HCBs are constructed from readily accessible chemicals like common household cleaners, which contain chemicals like hydrochloric acid and ammonia. Youths mix these chemicals together in small bottles and the resulting reaction produces loud sounds and smoke, just like a bomb. The danger comes from the gases and flying shrapnel from the bottle, which can inflict serious permanent illness and injury. Not sounding like too much fun anymore?
What happened to those fun school activities like freeze tag or playing Oregon Trail? Young students are learning to use their water bottles for what they perceive as “more fun,” and are getting hurt in the process. This is a serious matter that concerns not just our youth, but our parents and teachers alike since the majority of HCBs explosions occur in public places, especially schools. Do we need the TSA checking every student as they enter school or can we just teach our children the boundaries of acceptable behavior? Only time will tell.
The internet has opened up infinite amount of information and dangers for our children. Homemade bombs is just one example of that reality. Don’t you long for the days when toilet bowl cleaner was for toilets, ammonia was for cleaning floors and windows, and bleach was the key to getting your gym socks clean? Take a moment today to inform your children that if they see a fellow student carrying anything suspicious, they need to talk to those in charge. Our best defense is awareness.
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Dr. Paul Smolen has been practicing pediatrics for 32 years as an attending physician at Carolinas Medical Center, an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine-Chapel Hill, and a private practitioner.
To learn more about Dr. Smolen, click here.
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