Christopher Phillips case spawns concerns over possibly dangerous chemicals
Police accuse Halifax man of possessing osmium and osmium tetroxide but haven't found such chemicals yet
Nova Scotia RCMP say they've uncovered a cache of chemicals at two properties in the Halifax area reportedly linked to Christopher Phillips, the man arrested Wednesday after a several-hour long stand-off with police at an Ottawa hotel.
And even though no chemicals were found in Phillips's possession, police believe he may have at some point been in possession of two potentially dangerous substances: the heavy metal osmium and osmium tetroxide, one of its compounds.
No hazardous materials were found at the hotel where Phillips was arrested or in his vehicle, but Nova Scotia RCMP said they did find dangerous chemicals at two locations near Halifax: the garage of a home in Cole Harbour and a cottage in Grand Desert — properties believed to be linked to Phillips.
Police in Nova Scotia have not confirmed that osmium and osmium tetroxide were among the chemicals found at the properties, but Nova Scotia RCMP Cpl. Greg Church says police do know the chemicals are "hazardous and volatile."
"We need to engage a specialist, a chemists to assist us in furthering the investigation with respect to the type of chemicals that it is," he said.
Toxic and hard to clean up
Saint Mary University chemist Jason Clyburne has written research papers on osmium, a rare and highly reactive heavy metal.
"It's both a blessing and a bane in that it's useful and it's also very toxic," he said.
Osmium is used in staining biological materials in microscopic research and in the making of drugs, because it is so reactive with molecules in the body.
When it comes into contact with air, it becomes osmium tetroxide, a toxic substance that can cause blindness.
"We no longer work with osmium because of these toxicity issues," Clyburne said. "We would have to keep all of the chemical waste separate from all the other materials and store and handle and treat those separately."
Clyburne said the possibility of osmium tetroxide being released into a local environment is "very scary."
"It's long lasting, it's a heavy metal, and once it's let loose, it's very difficult to clean up completely," he said.
In April 2004, osmium tetroxide made the news in the United Kingdom when the BBC reported that it was part of a foiled scheme to build a chemical bomb capable of creating a toxic cloud.
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