Saskatchewan

Explosive ending for old, potentially volatile chemicals at U of Regina as police carry out planned detonation

The Regina Police Service bomb squad detonated about two kilograms of chemicals that had aged to a point of volatility and could not be safely moved.

The chemicals had degraded to the point they posed an explosion risk if disturbed, university says

Emergency vehicles were parked outside the University of Regina on Friday in preparation for the detonation of volatile chemicals found last fall in a building at the post-secondary institution. (Submitted by Regina Police Service)

The University of Regina has disposed of more than two kilograms of potentially volatile chemicals it discovered last fall on its campus — by blowing the chemicals up.

Members of the Regina Police Service's bomb squad were on campus over Thursday and Friday to dispose of the chemicals, which had become unstable over time, U of R president Jeff Keshen told CBC News.

The exact length of time hasn't been determined, he said.

At about 9 a.m. Friday, the chemicals were remotely detonated in an unpopulated open area to the south of the Regina campus, a spokesperson said.

The chemicals found in about nine containers — including dinitrophenol, 2,4-dinitrophenylhydrazine and 2,4,6-trinitrobenzenesulfonic acid — were discovered during an audit of the chemicals supply in the Research and Innovation Centre and adjoining lab building at the university. 

They had aged over time to a point of instability and, if disturbed, posed a risk of explosion, Keshen said. 

"If they remain stationary they are safe; it's the movement of these chemicals that are the issue," he said.

"We ensured that those laboratories were not accessed as soon as we discovered this was the case."

Some of the substances were legacy chemicals left behind by professors who had retired or left the university, Keshen said. That could mean some other chemicals in similar condition may still remain in university buildings. 

"This is why we undertake risk audits: to deal with these various situations," he said. "So there may well be [more chemicals], but we will discover them because our processes are far more thorough at this point."

After learning of the volatile chemicals, the university shut down the buildings and collaborated with the Regina Police Service.

The doors to the Research and Innovation Centre at the University of Regina were closed off because of aged chemicals that could be volatile if moved. The chemicals were disposed of through a controlled explosion on Friday. (Submitted by the University of Regina)

In an email, Regina Police spokesperson Elizabeth Popowich said the chemicals would "be disposed of in a manner that is safe for the public, for police personnel and the environment."

Keshen said that while there was a gap between the discovery of the chemcials last fall and their detonation on Friday, Regina police moved quickly through the required procedures to dispose of the chemicals.

Some institutions have detonation rooms designed for disposing of volatile chemicals. Keshen said he would like to have such a facility at the U of R, but "we always have to weigh the cost versus the frequency."

"We take, very seriously, our responsibility to mitigate risks and that's why we have ever stronger protocols in place, especially as we enhance the amount of research that we're undertaking on campus."

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