Lincoln police chief fears acid bomb experiments

Posted Dec. 11, 2008, at 7:46 p.m.

LINCOLN, Maine — Several YouTube videos and a report from a town merchant have Police Chief William Flagg concerned that teens might foolishly risk their lives building bombs made of toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil.

“I have reviewed the videos myself and I will tell you that I am very concerned about this,” Flagg said Thursday. “These bombs are bad enough to cause serious injury, even powerful enough to cause the loss of a limb.”

While no explosions or injuries have been reported locally, police are warning the general public not to try to make the homemade bombs illustrated in the YouTube videos. They also have alerted other police around the state and SAD 67 officials to be watchful and ask that anyone who knows of teens purchasing large quantities of the cleaner or foil to contact them at 794-8455.

Known as acid bombs, the devices are “inherently dangerous” because of the chemical reaction that occurs, Flagg said. “There’s no fuse or timer. Once these chemicals reach a certain point, which is very unpredictable, an explosion occurs.”

YouTube company officials did not immediately respond to an e-mail request for comment on Thursday. Founded in February 2005, the California-based company is the world’s most popular online video community, allowing millions of people to discover, watch and share original videos, according to the Web site.

As displayed in the videos, the explosion is quite powerful. It seems to take at least 30 seconds as pressure climbs within the sealed plastic bottle once the chemicals are combined. The blast obliterates the bottle. As a general rule, the power of a forced-chamber explosion is determined by the combustibility of its components and the tensile strength of what contains them. The more unyielding the container, the greater the possible explosion.

Lincoln police concerns were raised when a Family Dollar employee reported about three weeks ago that three or four teens had purchased as many as 10 bottles of toilet bowl cleaner. Police have been unable to identify the teens, Flagg said.

“It’s not the videos themselves that concern us because you can go on any of these [Web] sites and see any number of things like this,” Flagg said. “What is concerning us is that we have the report from the merchant, who was extremely cooperative, and the videos, and teens gossiping about using these. When we have these two elements combined, we fear that someone is experimenting.”

Police around the country are not unfamiliar with such homemade bombs.

In September 2004, deputy sheriffs in Polk County, Florida, charged two teens and a 21-year-old for setting off a homemade bomb, a plastic soda bottle, inside a McDonald’s restaurant near the restrooms. No one was injured, although customers were nearby, and the bomb did little damage, according to press reports.

Police in Midwest City, Okla., needed help from the bomb squad to deactivate several 2-liter bottles filled with the cleaner in March 2007. Three teens were charged.

No one in Lincoln who has purchased the cleaner and foil will face criminal charges, Flagg said, as they are common household materials, but if a bomb is assembled or used, several felony charges could result, even if done only as a prank.

“We have no indication that these devices are being used in any form of crime,” he said. “Our concern is strictly safety.”

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