The FBI, ATF and U.S. Forest Service are raising concerns about exploding targets meant to be used by rifle shooters sold at stores across the country, including Kansas and Missouri.
Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney from RTV6 in Indianapolis reports the FBI says exploding targets are so dangerous, they issued an intelligence bulletin to law enforcement, warning that exploding targets could be used by criminals and terrorists to make improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Exploding targets are sold under a variety of brand names, the most popular being Tannerite, and they're supposed to be used by rifle shooters to ensure they hit their target from long range.
They’re readily available and easy for people to buy off store shelves across the country. But the Call 6 Investigators found the products are being misused and abused, because people often use too much, stand too close, or place the product inside something that can create shrapnel.
Jennifer Plank-Greer, of Kokomo, Ind., lost her hand at a friend's house in Ohio in May 2012 from a piece of flying shrapnel. She captured the explosion on her cell phone from 150 yards away and says she was unaware an exploding target had been placed inside a refrigerator.
"I had no idea there was anything like that being used," Plank-Greer said. "The binary compound was used and placed inside the refrigerator, and they shot the refrigerator and blew it up."
Plank-Greer said she had just planned on taping her friend firing a brand new gun.
"It hit me so fast, I didn't even have time to react, and next thing I knew, my hand, my fingers were on the ground," she said.
In December, Plank-Greer and her attorney Chris Stevenson filed an amended court complaint in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, in Toledo.
"It's a dangerous product and frankly, the foreseeable risks of this product far outweigh any benefit you could ever get from it," Stevenson said. "The fact that someone was not fatally injured in this explosion is a miracle, really."
Plank-Greer is suing H2Targets, the manufacturer of the exploding target, the store that sold it -- Big Buck's Firearms & Sporting Goods -- and the property owner, James Yaney Jr. She reached a settlement with the shooter.
Tannerite Sports and Daniel Tanner were originally named in the lawsuit, but will be dismissed, because that company's product was not involved. The Tannerite name is often used as a generic term for exploding targets.
Plank-Greer and Stevenson said the FBI warnings bolster their case.
"It gives credibility to the fact that this is a dangerous product," Stevenson said. "This product is being used to detonate things and blow things up."
A 41 Action News producer found exploding targets for sale on area store shelves in Kansas and Missouri. Mike O’Connell with the Missouri Department of Public Safety confirmed there are no state laws or regulations concerning the sale, possession or use of exploding targets.
In Kansas, Rose Rozmiarek, the Chief Investigator with the Office of the State Fire Marshal, told 41 Action News legislation passed in September 2013 changed the definition of explosives which then required sellers and buyers to have a proper permit and training to handle the product.
However, Rozmiarek said months later a variance letter was sent to members of the explosive industry which stated binary explosives could be bought and sold without a permit.
Even without state or federal restrictions, 41 Action News found many stores have their own policies.
For example, a cashier at Dick's Sporting Goods at Ward Parkway Mall in Kansas City asked the producer for her birthdate, checked her driver’s license and said you have to be 18 to purchase the product.
Academy Sports and Outdoors in Overland Park had a large selection of Tannerite products, but upon check-out the producer was told a customer must be 21 years old to make the purchase.
And Cabela’s in Kansas City, Kan., doesn’t sell the product in its store. However, Tannerite is available on the store’s website, along with a disclaimer stating you must be 21 years or older to purchase the product.
It's easy to find videos on YouTube of people using the product to blow up items such as appliances and cars. The Indianapolis Police Department’s Bomb Squad demonstrated just how dangerous the chemicals can be once mixed together.
"If you use it outside its normal intent, that is now an improvised explosive device, and that's illegal," Sgt. Ron Humbert said. "Kids are using it. They're taking it out in the country, on a farm, shooting it inside and outside Marion County with their long guns."
Using a controlled detonation, the bomb squad blew up a mailbox, a watermelon and just the container.
Humber said because it's often used on private property, it's difficult for police to keep tabs on.
"Nobody's tracking it, until somebody gets hurt," said Humbert.
The federal government is also concerned about people misusing exploding targets.
"It creates a public safety
concern," Kirk Dennis said, ATF special agent bomb technician. "People don't realize the risk. If you put them in a container for something other than intended for, there can be tragic consequences."
The U.S. Forest Service banned the targets on its property in five western states – including Kansas - claiming the exploding targets ignited wildfires that cost more than $33 million to fight.
"Tannerite brand targets are nonflammable and they do not start fires," Dena Woerner said, spokeswoman for Tannerite.
Woerner said the leading manufacturer of exploding targets is launching a letter-writing campaign to people with YouTube videos abusing the product.
"If it's used properly and for what is intended, it's a safe product," Woerner said. "We have a plea for common sense."
Woerner said the company strongly encourages people to not misuse the product.
"We strictly state you need to be at least 100 yards away for every one pound you shoot," Woerner said.
Plank-Greer thought she was at a safe range.
"I was approximately 150 yards up range," she said. "I had on safety glasses, hearing protection."
"My medical expenses are $250,000 and I'm not done," she added. "It's just not fair that people can make this product and have it on store shelves."
An attorney for H2Targets declined to comment to RTV6.
Plank-Greer's hand was reattached, but she has little function left.
"I can't tie my shoes," she said. She wants other people to heed safety warnings.
"I don't want to see somebody else go through what I've gone through," said Plank-Greer.
Experts say if you do use exploding targets, make sure to follow the manufacturer's guidelines and keep a safe distance.
Once the two chemicals are mixed, you need a federal permit to transport it because it's then considered an explosive.
"Don’t use it unless you know what you’re doing," said Dennis.