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Following Beaver Dam explosion, ATF explains when household chemicals become illegal

BEAVER DAM, Wis. (CBS 58) -- It is now known what was inside the fridge at Benjamin Morrow's Beaver Dam apartment.

Investigators believe 28-year-old Benjamin Morrow was cooking chemicals on his stove when they exploded.

By themselves, many of the liquids and powders were harmless, but investigators believe the combination of them led to the explosion.

When does possessing those chemicals become illegal?

"You start to cross the line when you start to use the products for what they're not intended for," said

Asst. Special Agent in Charge Joel Lee with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in Wisconsin.

Lee says when chemicals are mixed when chemicals are mixed to create an explosive, or when there is intent to use the chemicals for an explosive can all be considered illegal.

By themselves, all of the substances found in Morrow's apartment were legal. Some chemicals were ordinary household items like hydrogen peroxide or acetone. Investigators found some liquids they believed to be the highly explosive chemical mixture called TATP.

How easily accessible the items are have local law enforcement worried.

"The concern is how readily available these materials are, and we have to be aware of the potential dangers that are out there. Explosive material is now one of them. We want to make sure we educate ourselves and prepare, and educate the public as well. We want to make sure we get that message if you see something, say something," Lt. Terrence Gebhardt, Beaver Dam Police Department. "It may create future investigations that can lead to a better end.

Newly released documents show, there may have been some signs Morrow was working with chemicals.

His co-workers told investigators Morrow would come into work "smelling like mothballs.”

"Especially explosives; they are chemical in nature and they will emit a scent, a smell, and it's not normal," said Lee.

Lee says law enforcement relies on the public as their eyes and ears. If anyone suspects anything out of the ordinary, he says a social media tip is easy and will get to the right person.

Morrow had a degree in chemistry and may have had basic knowledge on how to construct the explosives found in his apartment.

The ATF says no matter what experience level someone has, mixing any chemicals to create an explosive is extremely dangerous and very illegal.

"Due to the unpredictable nature of chemicals, sometimes experts make mistakes too. It's bad stuff to play with. It's not a game," said Lee.

Lee also warns that anyone that plays with chemicals is criminal -- whether it is someone experimenting in their backyard or someone with harmful motives.

"We will prosecute a explosives lawbreaker to the fullest of the law.... a law violator in the explosives realm faces consequences because of dangerous nature. Especially when turned into a device. They can injure an entire block or building. The destruction, the mass destruction, fires, chemical, and environmental impact is devastating," said Lee.


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