Is a Paint Bomb Dangerous?

A Dutch boat offering offshore abortions docked two days ago in Wladyslawowo, Poland, where pro-life demonstrators greeted it with a barrage of stones and paint bombs. Today, two paint bombs were thrown at the home of an official in Northern Ireland. What is a paint bomb?

A low-tech favorite of student protesters and sectarian thugs alike, particularly in Europe, paint bombs vary in both design and destructive force. The simplest, least damaging ones are simply paint-filled versions of that prankster classic, the water balloon. Do-it-yourselfers must jury-rig a pumping device; simply pouring paint into a balloon won’t work, due to lack of pressure. It’s also critical to thin the paint a bit and to avoid brands containing solvents that could dissolve the balloon’s skin before launch.

Another fairly innocuous method is to poke two holes in an egg, empty out the contents, and use the remaining shell as a bomb casing. The very thinned-out ordnance is often poured in from a Tabasco bottle, ideal for its narrow spout. The ends are then sealed with wax; the final product looks something like this.

These bombs are often used by protesters to vandalize emblems they abhor. During an April demonstration in Mexico City, for example, anti-war protesters hurled paint bombs at several Burger King and KFC franchises, as a token of their displeasure with the Bush administration’s Iraq policy. And several of the Tiananmen Square protesters were handed lengthy prison sentences for splattering portraits of Mao Zedong.

A more dangerous paint-bomb variant is a staple of street violence in Northern Ireland, especially during the annual “marching season.” There, militants fill empty liquor bottles with thin paint or printer’s ink and hurl the contraptions at rival churches, objectionable murals, or the homes of adversaries. Catholic hooligans prefer to coat their targets in the green, white, and orange of the Irish flag, while their Protestant rivals use the red, white, and blue of the Union Jack. Flying shards of glass can cause more than just superficial damage, of course, especially when such a projectile is tossed into a living room.

Perhaps the most dangerous paint bomb is a seldom-used, non-projectile version that consists of nothing more than a can of paint and some dry ice. When the ice is mixed in and the lid resealed, pressure quickly builds, eventually creating a volcano-like effect. Far too heavy to throw very far, and prone to sudden detonation, the dry-ice recipe is a risky, albeit potentially devastating, approach. The lid can wreak havoc when sent aloft by the explosion.

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