Exploding Trousers

posted: 04/11/12
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As seen in "MythBusters: Exploding Trousers"


A fiery chapter in New Zealand's agricultural history occurred in the 1930s, when records show that farmers' pants began spontaneously exploding. That might sound like a red-hot myth, but MythBusters Kari Byron, Grant Imahara and Tory Belleci confirmed that a once-popular herbicide can indeed set outdoor clothes on fire - and fast.

In the 1920s, ragwort, an aggressive weed that chokes out crops and kills livestock when ingested, was accidentally introduced into the New Zealand ecosystem, and farmers began using a powerful herbicide to slay the invasive plant.

Unfortunately, as the MythBusters demonstrated, the chemical reacts violently to radiant heat and friction. They smeared patches of cotton overalls with the explosive herbicide elixir, the precise ingredients of which remain top secret for safety's sake. Sure enough, after exposing the poisoned pants to heat and friction, compounds in the herbicide reacted with the cotton fibers to make them extremely explosive. The presence of radiant heat or an open flame easily ignited the sizzling swatches.

To confirm the myth full-scale, the MythBusters suited up a dummy in a pair of fully loaded pants and detonated the dynamite duds. The hot pants didn't do fatal damage to the dummy, but those New Zealand farmers certainly suffered significant scarring from the herbicide-induced incineration.

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