Explosives are solid, liquid, or gaseous chemicals that can cause a sudden, almost instantaneous release of pressure, gas, and heat when subjected to shock, pressure, or high temperature. Their acquisition, storage, use, and disposal are highly regulated, and these materials demand the highest safety precautions.

The U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has an extensive set of regulations entitled Commerce in Explosives (27 CFR 555). These rules govern the acquisition, use, storage, and security requirements for a specific list of explosive materials, updated annually. The most recent list is in the January 8, 2010 Federal Register. This list includes obvious explosive materials such as 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT), lead azide, and mercury fulminate. The list also includes more common laboratory chemicals in dried out or non-reagent form such as dinitrophenol, picric acid, and sodium azide.

Public educational institutions such as UNC are exempt from several of the provisions of 27 CFR 555, except for storage requirements. If you use any substance on the ATF List of Explosive Materials in your research, you might be required to comply with the requirements for magazine storage, depending on the concentration of substance and whether it is packaged in reagent form.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) classifies explosive (Class 1) materials into one of six divisions. Division 1.1 materials are the most hazardous due to their sensitivity and mass explosion hazard, whereas Division 1.6 materials are insensitive and not a mass explosion hazard. Other divisions fall between these extremes. The DOT also maintains a forbidden explosives list. This list is similar but not identical to the ATF list. Under most circumstances, you cannot receive forbidden explosives from vendors, drive them over the road, ship them to other collaborators, or receive them from other off-site collaborators.

Please contact EHS first if you contemplate receiving, synthesizing (directly or as by-product), using, or shipping any substance on the ATF List of Explosive Materials or the DOT Forbidden Explosives List.

Figure 11.1
Common placards and pictograms for explosive materials (left to right):
DOT placard for Division 1.1 – 1.3 materials; DOT placard for Division 1.4 materials; European Union glyph for explosive materials; iconic glyph for explosive materials.