"You could feel it. It shook the whole house it was unreal. It had to be a bomb-- we didn't know what it was," Noreen Newell said.
What Noreen Newell thought was a bomb, came from a canister. Known by the popular brand name Tannerite, it holds a combination of ammonium nitrate prills and aluminum powder. When mixed together, the compound creates an explosive that detonates when struck by high-speed bullets. It's used for target practice, and it has put some Wallingford residents on high alert.
"I just couldn't believe that someone could put off an explosive like that. Our first thoughts were that someone was breaking the sound barrier," Newell said.
Even though Tannerite has been used to blow up cars or even houses, it is legal under federal law. But a WCAX News investigation recently discovered that under Vermont law, exploding targets meet the definition of fireworks. And to legally possess and use fireworks in the state, one must have a permit.
"Like many products, if it's used the way it's designed and used the way it's intended to be safely used, it really isn't a problem. Is it technically legal to possess in its mixed form without a license or without a permit? Actually it's not," said Lt. Paul White of the Vt. Bomb Squad.
White says his concern is when people start to experiment, and increase the quantity of explosives used at one time. A half pound is recommended for target practice, but 50 pounds can demolish a car. One pound of Tannerite is equal to roughly one stick of dynamite.
But many argue that the exploding targets do not pose a threat, and are simply being used for fun.
"I think they are used by responsible people for recreational use on their own land and I think there is being a lot made of it. And there are a lot of other things going on that people could be worrying about. Nobody is getting hurt by it," said Mark Spafford of Otter Valley Supply.
Spafford says he was shocked to hear that the exploding targets require a permit to use. The Tannerite-type explosives are only considered a firework once mixed, so store owners are currently not breaking a law by selling the product to customers who don't have a permit. White says Vermont's explosives law is outdated, and has not caught up with new products on the market.
"So, I think there is room for some legislative change to broaden the definition, bring it more in line with modern times and make it a little more clear cut for us as to what is and what is not legal and we should be pursuing," White said.
Although the exploding targets are now understood to be illegal without a permit, there are concerns about regulating this type of activity. Law enforcement agencies say illegal firework use is not a top priority, so it is unclear if these explosives will be handled the same.
Vermont State Police say although the explosives are legal to buy, but not to use, do not hesitate to call law enforcement if there are any issues.
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