Open Burning and Open Detonation (OB/OD)


Open detonation and open burn operations are used to destroy excess, obsolete, or unserviceable munitions and energetic (i.e., explosive) materials. Open burn and open detonation are subject to increasing regulatory restriction, and these techniques may no longer be feasible in the near future. In open burning, materials such as rocket fuel are destroyed by self-sustained combustion after being ignited. In general, electric initiation systems are preferable because they provide better control. In open detonation, explosives and munitions are destroyed by a detonation of added explosive charges. In the past, these operations occurred at land surface or in pits. Recently, burn trays and blast boxes have been used to control and contain resulting emissions. In detonation processes the blast box may be below grade and covered with soil to further minimize the release of emissions.

Open detonation is also used in emergency situations to destroy munitions and improvised explosive device deemed unsafe to move. In such cases, temporary barrierrs are often constructed to limit blast, noise, and toxic releases.

Limitations and Concerns

Underlying soil and groundwater may become contaminated with byproducts of incomplete combustion, heavy metals, or incomplete detonation products resulting from open operations.

Emissions of hydrocarbons, metals, and other substances from open operations are extremely difficult to capture and may not be permitted in many areas. Subsurface processes may minimize emissions release, but may reduce the completeness of detonation.

Substantial space is required for open processes to maintain minimum distance requirements for safety purposes.

In planning open operations, care must be take to prevent wind from propelling sparks, flames, smoke, and toxic fumes toward from sensitive structures, populations, and ecosystems.

Operations often contain many types of explosives, pyrotechnics, and propellants. Open burn areas must be able to withstand accidental detonation of any or all energetics being destroyed.

Historically, in the open detonation of munitions, some ordnance or energetics have not be destroyed. In particular, bulk detonation may cause "kick-out," the ejection of undetonated devices, distributing dangerous ordnance over a wide area. Kick-out can be minimized by the proper placement of multiple charges.

Open detonation is a form of uncontrolled incineration. It is a process that can lead toxic releases and exposures.

People who live, work, or recreate near OB/OD sites often complain about noise and in some cases, blast damage.


Detonation and open burning destroy excess, obsolete, or unserviceable munitions, energetic materials, and media contaminated with energetics.

Technology Development Status

Open burn and open detonation are well established, but they are increasingly restricted due to environmental concerns.

Web Links

Other resources

See pyrolysis as possible alternative.

See the description of Controlled Detonation Chamber.

See for a technical description of explosives in different media and the use of some analytical techniques. 

See also