In the United States some two and a half billion pounds of commercial explosives are used every year. Nearly seven million pounds every day, and the amount is growing.

These explosives are used to help extract raw materials and fuels from the earth, to open up right-of-way for highways and mass transit systems, to trench the earth for pipelines and to clear the way for safe harbors. Digging foundations, cutting canals, even removing tree stumps and demolishing old buildings-these and many more are the jobs that persons working with explosives accomplish throughout the year.

In the recent past, however, some major changes have begun to take place in the explosives industry. Intensive research in product development, manufacturing processes, and blasting techniques has yielded new lines of high-performing explosive products, which are safer in both manufacture and use. With these new products have come new filed practices as well.

This paper will cover the use of explosives in the construction and mining industries. Also, the paper will discuss many of the federal, state and local regulations that apply to the transportation, storage, and use of explosives and initiating devices.


From an extremely crude beginning the commercial explosives industry has evolved into a sophisticated research-based and systems-oriented provider of powerful tools for extracting raw materials from the earth and constructing our modern world. During the 1970's new water gel explosives and ammonium nitrate prill products were perfected. These two developments prompted dramatic changes in the explosives industry-an industry that once was sole dependent on dynamite (and earlier on black powder) to accomplish the heavy work previously left to the muscle of man's shoulders.

Black Powder

Today's commercial explosives industry has its roots in the discovery and development of black powder. But these roots are obscure.

The first documented mention of saltpeter or "nitre," the basic ingredient of black powder, is to be found in 13th Century writings of the Arabian author Abd Allah. Even before then, the Chinese are thought to have used saltpeter-perhaps as early as the 10th century. Their early work with saltpeter appears to have been limited to fireworks and rockets.

It was not until after 1642, when the English friar Roger Bacon published a formula for black powder that this product was considered a blasting agent. Its first use for blasting rock was in 1627 in Hungary. Despite the limitations posed by poor drilling equipment, high powder costs, and poor product quality, use of back powder in mining operations had spread to the tin mines of Cornwall, England, by 1689.

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