THE WASHINGTON, D.C., telephone directory is loaded with a mind-boggling number of interest groups, many of which represent industries wanting to be close to the seat of government to protect their interests before Congress.
Recently, I happened upon a listing for the Institute of Makers of Explosives. In light of the recent tragedy in Oklahoma, I decided to drop into the institute's Washington office to find out just what the IME is all about.
The receptionist had packets of information ready to hand out to curious folks like me. The packet included a brochure indicating that the IME is a "safety association of the commercial explosives industry in the United States and Canada." Founded in 1913, it provides "technically accurate information and recommendations concerning explosive materials and serves as a source of reliable information about their use."
Membership in the IME is open to "any corporation, partnership or firm engaged in the manufacture of explosive materials for commercial use [exclusive of fireworks and pyrotechnics] and any firm engaged in the business of storing, distributing or selling commercial explosives." According to the group's literature, some 70 subsidiaries and affiliates produce over 70 percent of the explosives used in the United States each year -- about 4.1 billion pounds. I am still reeling from that statistic and wonder what the total would be with the remaining 30 percent added.
The packet also contained a list of "Safety Library Publications," which may be ordered by mail. These include brochures on the transportation and distribution of explosive materials, safety in storage, handling and use of such materials, and a guide for building storage facilities for explosives. There was also an order form for a nine-minute safety video tape designed to teach children about the dangers of commercial detonators. The video demonstrates the hazards of detonators or blasting caps and also contains a message regarding the "positive uses of explosives as an essential tool for today's society."
Of course, explosives have played an important role in our country's economic development. They, generally, are a safe way to bring down old buildings, create tunnels and carve out openings for coal miners.
The IME represents reputable businesses. It does not provide information to anyone about how to produce explosives. But as this nation has seen, it is easy for the likes of a Timothy McVeigh (who has been linked to the Oklahoma City bombing) to make a bomb that can destroy scores of innocent people.
The IME claims to play a major role in assisting federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in matters involving commercial explosives. These include the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Secret Service.
Learning about the IME taught me an all too common lesson: evil can come out of things meant for good.
Janet Heller writes from Baltimore.