TRANSPORTATION OF EXPLOSIVES.
The Railroad Gazette gives the following relative to some explosives not enumerated in the National law regulating the transportation of explosives, the carrying of which in unstamped packages is frought with great peril to live and property:
Ordinary gunpowder is generally known. If shining black grains should stream from a cask or parcel accidentally broken in the depot, the average employe would suspect what the substance might be, and would know how to test it, and what the danger and the proper precautions we e. Yet even about gunpowder mistakes are possible. A lad or laborer might not recognize an odd-looking black brick full of round holes as gunpowder, if it had never been explained to him that powder intended for 1 cannon is now made in cakes of various forms and sizes, often perforated. Damaged powder may cause disaster. Some which was brought up fr >m the hold of a sunken ship was examined by experts and pronounced ruined ; u on which the owner entrusted it to a cartman to dump in a neighboring river. The caitman, however, threw it in the street. It was in lumps or cakes; some street boys found it; they mis’ook it for coke ; and in their building a fire with it one of the lumps exploded with sufficient force to injure one of the lads severely. In an a tion in his behalf for damng s, the court said that the advice given by the experts was to be taken into view in determining whether there was negligence. Informa’ion from competent persons that a lot o) powder has been so damaged as to be harmless may well exonerate its owner or a carrier from using the stringent pr«c cut ions ordinarily obligatory. Whaf is called “while” gunpowder might not be suspected by an ordinary observer. It is made by mixing chlorate of potash w ith sulphur, carbonaceous matter or sulphate of antimony. It is even more dangerous th in any ordinary gunpowder, as it may be exploded by a blow or by contact with sulphuric’acid as well as by touch of fire, and is even liable t3 “go off” spontane udy. It is, however, seldom used ; hence it can but very rarely come into a freight agent’s charge.
1 he various powders known as fulminates are made by distolving almost any metal in warmed nitric acid and adding alcohol. Ol these fulminating silver is the most powciful, but fulminating mercury is in mo*t common use, mercury bei g a clu‘ai>er mate ial. This is a white powder, in crystalized grains having somewhat the appearance of fine table salt. It explodes with great violence from a slight blow and may IK: exploded by contact with strong acids. It would be a very dtngerous article in a freight car, but is very seldom offered for transportation in quantities. It, however, is the explosive bads of ordinary percussion c?.ps,of many of the cartridges and detonators, and of the toy torpedoes made in such quantities (or children.
Dun-cotton is the most common of several c impounds technic illy classed as nltr >-cellulose. They are made by soaking in nitric acid almost any kind of wo d fibre cellulose. Cotton is genera ly u ed because cheap and convenient. Gunc it ton which ts also cabled pyrrxyline and tri intro-cellulose—looks like ordinary cotton. A small lot of it, if lighted while lying loose, burns much as ordinary cotton does; more quickly, indeed, but without distinct flash or report. Hence puling a small sample Irom a suspected bag or bale, and lighting it in an off-hand way. In the open air, as a freight hand or porter would be apt to do, would not be a sufficient test. It m ty be distinguished from ordinary cotton by the fact that it will dissolve In a mixture of ether and alcohol. When compressed in cakes (in which firm it often appears in commerce), or when confined, it may be exploded, eitner by a spark or flame or by a very severe blow. Thus, if a considerable bulk of gun-cotton is ignited, an explosion follows ; for the mass w ithin is practically c >n fined by the fibres outside; the extexior bums, the interior explodes, but. upon the whole, an explosion of gun-cotton docs not occur easily enough to rend« r tt a specially dangerous article on the road. Some preparations, such as guncotton soaked in a solution of ni re, called nitrated gun-cotton, or in chlorate of potash, called chiorated gun-cotton, are more dangerous, for they ignite more easily and explode more violently; but these are seldom or never effered for railroad transportation.
What is know n ns picric powder—also as Abel’s pxwder or Brugcre’s powder— which is somewh it used in blasting, seems not embraced within the anti-nitroglycexine law of congress. It sufficiently resembles thecompound of nitro-glycerine to come within the purpose of the law, but it is not in any sfense a compound of nitro-glycerine. It belongs to a class called by chemists the “picrates;” they being formed lrom pier c acid. Picric powder, however, does not explode read ly.
It is scarcely necess iry to mention the chloride and iodide of nitrogen. 1 hese explode with the greatest violence, and so easily that the utmost care would be needful in catrying them. They are seldom seen outside the chemist’s laboratory.
Much might lie said, if space permitted, of precautions proper in the carrying fire wot ks, percussion caps, detonators, cartridges, torpedoes and the like. The forms and names of these are familiar; therefore they are somewhat less likely to be exploded by ignorant handling when they are in sight. They are perhaps more likely than many explosives to be secreted in personal baggage. Fire-works, in so far as they involve gunpowder only, are not very dangerous in transportation, unless fire occurs and reaches them. Bu‘ other chemica’s, especial’y chlorate of potash and fulminate of mercury, ar,; largely used in making fire-works, or are often packed in connection with them ; these introduce the danger of explosion from the concussions incident to travel. Thus a box labeled “ fire-works” may contain a gross ot toy torpedoes; these may be fir d by merely throwing the box about ; and they may ignite the fus’s of the rockets, etc. The other articles named, being based on the fulmina’es as the explosive element, are more or less Table to burst from mere rough usage.
When an oil train lakes fire the disaster is often aggravated by explosions, and thefearof one may well embarrass efforts to extinguish. It is not the petroleum itself which explodes in these circumstances; that, when once kindled, will blaze with great violence, but is not explosive, whether confin :d or in the open air, unless, perhaps, when in the form of spray. Wli it explodes is an a mosphere which has been formed by evaporation in the upper or empty part of a pardy filled lank or car. Petroleum, kerosene, a ;d some similar fluids give oft a vapor which, mingled in due proportion with atmospheric air, forms a highly explosive compound. If it is known positively that all the tanks in a train were completely fil ed. little danger need be apprehended that they will explode as they burn ; the peril is confined to such as have some empty space above the load of oil. The oil in one tank might, under rare circumstances, be heate 1 to the boiling point by an adjacent car afire, and the oil-vapor given off cause an explosion.
With respect to explosives generally th re is authority of law for saying that if the sender conceals their true character from the agents of the radioed company he thereby assumes full responsibility for ill consequences. An exception has been admitted in the case of a shipper who was himself deceiv. d by the person from whom he received the goods; and who told the receiving agents of the company that the box contained gun-stocks and other goods of harmless nature, when in fact it contained, unknown to him, oil of vitriol. To the best of his knowledge the shipper should give information ; if this is not required by any explicit statute, he still w ill withhold it at the peril of paying damages. The companies have the clear right to be informed, frankly and fully, of the nature of any dmgerous ar.icle cammiited to their eha-ge. One who, knowing the danger, induces the receiving agents to accept a package by withholding informa’ion will n jt be sheltered from liability by the fa, t that they neglected to make inquiry. He is bound to speak. In a legal pomt of view it is a deceit to pu* a parcel of explosives aboard the cars without disclosing its character. Moreover, c irriers and their agents have the right, when there is probable reason tor suspecting explosives, to retain and examine a package. The propriety of so doing in the p ir icalar cise is to be judged by a jury in view of the circumstances. Even where such examination of a leaky case containing nitro-glycerine—made in a manner would have been prudent if the leaking substance had been, as was believed, some innocuous oil—has caused an explosion, the courts have held the companies free f oni liability, saying that its agents weie acting in the line of a carrier’s duty.