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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

‘Safe’ Explosives in Development!

We know of so many explosives, TNT and RDX, being perhaps the most talked-about. But are they really safe to the people working in the explosive manufacturing plants? How much can exposure to these substances affect their health?

TNT (Trinitrotoluene) is behind so many sooty explosions in the World War. Minor exposure to TNT causes skin irritation, turning it to bright yellow color. And prolonged exposure can cause stomach and liver dysfunctions, anemia, etc. In some other cases, it includes liver and spleen enlargement, tumors, and weakening of the immune system. All these have been proved scientifically, through tests in animals.

RDX (Research Department Explosive or Royal Demolition Explosive) in excess causes nervous and physical convulsions known as seizures in human beings. Other anomalies include decrease in body weight, development of tumor, and liver or kidney damage.

All these dysfunctions and anomalies are normal in people working for years in explosive production plants. To end this suffering, scientists have been in research to find safer alternatives to these explosives.

And this research recently had a turning point, when some scientists in Germany gazed at the recently discovered chemical materials called tetrazoles. Tetrazole is a class of synthetic carbon-nitrogen compounds. Tetrazole chemical formula is CN4H2. They were first prepared by a reaction between anhydrous hydrazoic acid and hydrogen cyanide.

The scientists, upon realizing that most people ignored the explosive nature of these materials, studied them further and developed two models of bombs codenamed HBT and G2ZT.

Their advantage besides the fact that the poisonous expulsion is minimal is that they are less likely to explode accidentally than the counterparts. Also, in initial experiments, HBT was proved as powerful as TNT and G2ZT, even more. Though they expelled highly poisonous hydrogen cyanide in the initial trials, mixing them with oxidizers avoided the production of the gas. It also increased the explosiveness of the products.

Thomas Klapotke and Carles Miro of Munich University headed the research. They are slated to publish their findings in Chemistry of Materials, a science journal on 24 next month.

I believe there is no such thing as safe explosive. When they explode, they are not safe for anybody. And a world without explosives is still distant, as evident from these findings.

Copyright © Gayatri Jayashankar 2008