Warning about Homemade Bottle Bombs made with Soda Bottles and Household Products-Truth!

Summary of eRumor:

This is a forwarded email that cautions readers about large soda bottles that could contain Drano and Aluminum foil, two common household items.  When placed and mixed in an empty large soda bottle they become a bottle bomb, which may result in a violent explosion.

The Truth:

The warning of what law enforcement agencies call a “works bomb” is real.  There are various videos posted to the popular YouTube web site that demonstrate how to assemble these bottle bombs. 

According to a warning issued by the Washtenaw County Sheriff in Ann Arbor, Michigan, bottle bombs are “described as Drano and foil mixed inside a bottle. The chemical reaction makes a volatile build-up of gases and subsequently detonates the bottle with a great amount of force, with the chemical substance in the bottle becoming boiling liquid at that point.”  The warning also said, “The explosion can be severe enough to cause second- or third-degree burns or blindness.”   The warning came after sheriff’s deputies responded to two such bombs.

In a June 6, 2009, KCTV in Kansas City, KA reported that such an improvised explosive device exploded in an Eudora residential postal box, which blew the mailbox from the base that held it.

Updated 05/31/10

A real example of the eRumor as it has appeared on the Internet:

Good morning to you all. I want to make you aware of a recent incident that occurred this morning in York Twp. This type of incident directly affects your safety as well as your children’s safety. This morning, at approximately 8:00 am, I was dispatched to an address, on Bemis Rd near the Saline City Limits, for an unexploded pop bottle bomb. When I arrived, I noticed a 20 ounce pop bottle, on the ground, in the callers front yard. After I inspected it closer, I determined that it was in fact a “Works” Bomb. I was able to clear the device away from the house and once I moved it, it detonated itself within 30 seconds. After leaving that house, I checked other yards in the area during my patrols. I located a second one, just a few doors down from the first one. As I took care of the disposal/detonation, the homeowner came out and asked me what it was. When I showed her what it was, she immediately told me that she saw the bottle and that she had planned on picking it up when she got her morning paper. Like the first one, once I moved it, it detonated in short order. There was a high probability that this would have detonated in her hand/face while she carried it to the trash.

A “Works” Bomb is Drain-o and Tin Foil, mixed together inside of a bottle. The chemical reaction between the Drain-o and the Tin Foil makes a volatile build up of gases and subsequently detonates the bottle with a great amount of force. Once the detonation occurs, the chemical substance that is in the bottle is actually boiling liquid.

The amount of force that is generated at the time of the explosion is enough to severe fingers and also deliver 2nd and 3rd degree chemical burns to the victim. The chemicals can possibly cause blindness and the toxic fumes can be harmful.

**SAFETY**SAFETY**SAFETY***……….When you are out and about in your yards, please be mindful of these devices. If your picking up your morning paper, or mowing your grass, or if you let your children out to play; whatever your activities are, please use the following precautions.

1) If you find a soda bottle or any other bottles, examine it carefully before you touch it or get near it. If it shows signs of swelling, or melting in any way, DO NOT TOUCH IT! Call 911 and let us respond to take care of it.

2) If you find a soda bottle that has any liquid in it, DO NOT TOUCH IT! Call 911 and let us respond to check it / dispose of it.

Both bombs this morning appeared to be slightly swollen, with a dark colored liquid, inside of it. This liquid could have easily been mistaken for left over soda.

I know that calling 911 for a soda bottle may sound silly or like a misuse of your Police protection but trust me, it is not. You do not want one of these devices detonating in your hand or your children’s hands or in your pets face. We are here to incur the danger for you so that you are and
your loved ones are not harmed. So please check your yard thoroughly before letting your children out to play and be mindful before you just deem that soda bottle as garbage and pick it up.

In closing, please educate your children on the dangers and consequences of making these devices. It has become popular with the youth in the past few years, to do this as a prank, but there have been some changes to the law. Not only could it be deadly to the maker or the victim, but making one these devices is called, “Possession of a Substance with Explosive Capabilities”. If it causes no damage, its a 15 year Felony. If it causes damage, its a 20 year Felony. If it causes physical injury, its a 25 year Felony. If it causes serious injury, the penalty can be “Up to life”, and if it causes death, its Mandatory Life without the possibility of Parole. These are statutory guidelines only. These penalties are what could be imposed but it does not necessarily mean that these penalties would be imposed.

If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to call me or send me an email. Please be safe and have a great day.

Origins: The above-quoted e-mail was a warning sent out by Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Deputy Keith Mansell in April 2010 after he discovered two Drano (or “works”) bombs left in the yards of residents of York Township, Michigan. As shown in the video below, these concoctions of Drano brand drain cleaner (i.e., sodium hydroxide), water, and aluminum foil in plastic bottles can indeed produce quite dangerous explosions:

At about the same time, the town of Methuen, Massachusetts, experienced a rash of similar plastic-bottle bomb placements, including two that blew apart mailboxes:
A rash of homemade plastic-bottle bombs used to blow up mailboxes has prompted arson investigators and the state police fire marshal’s office to offer up to a $5,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of anyone responsible for making and setting off the incendiary devices.

[Methuen police arson investigator Matt] Bistany said [a plastic bottle a resident discovered sticking out the front of her mailbox] is at least the third device of its kind found in the neighborhood in the last few weeks, although in the two other cases, the bombs actually succeeded in blowing apart the mailboxes.

Barry said the bombs, made up of typical household chemicals poured into plastic bottles and then sealed shut with the cap, can be very powerful.

“We take these very seriously,” he said. “Kids have lost their fingers and had their faces injured from these things. It’s very serious.”