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Bomb disposal squads detonate chemical stocks in British schools

Bomb disposal squads detonate chemical stocks in British schools Science & Technology World Website


Bomb disposal teams have carried out controlled explosions at seven schools across England after a warning over a lab chemical that is dangerous if stored incorrectly.

Some of the blasts prompted complaints on social media from local residents, who say they were given no warning.

At least seven schools have reportedly summoned police and military bomb disposal teams to conduct controlled explosions in recent days, and Dr David Kinnison, a safety adviser, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that more were likely.

Last week schools received a note from the science advisory body, Cleapss, reminding them of the correct procedures for storing 2,4-dinitrophenylhydrazine, which is used in A-level chemistry lessons. If the chemical, also known as 2,4-DNPH, is allowed to dry out it can become dangerous.

Cleapss told schools to check how the chemical was stored and contact them if they had any concerns.

Kinnison told Today: “We have always known that this type of material if it’s not stored properly … can become potentially quite dangerous.”

If allowed to dry out 2,4-DNPH can become explosive, he said, adding that schools that summoned the bomb squad over improperly stored stocks were not overreacting. “Best to be safe rather than sorry,” he said.

A Department for Education spokesman told the Guardian the warning was prompted by incidents involving the chemical at a small number of schools, although he declined to identify which ones.

“It has been used for many, many years. As long as it’s stored correctly, it’s absolutely fine,” he said, adding that it was better to carry out the explosions on-site than to transport the chemicals elsewhere.

The affected schools, according to reports in the local press, are Nottingham academy, Ryde school with Upper Chine and the Isle of Wight college, both on the Isle of Wight, St Alban’sCatholic high school in Ipswich, Suffolk, Thomas Adams school in Wem, Shropshire, De Montfort school in Evesham, Worcestershire, and Turton school in Bolton.

Neighbours of the Thomas Adams school complained on Facebook about the explosion after stocks of the chemical were destroyed on Monday evening, and a fire engine was dispatched.

The headteacher told the Guardian the school had been advised by Cleapss to contact the police immediately and had been left with no time to warn local residents. “We were told the bomb squad were coming at quarter to six at night and they arrived by seven,” Liz Dakin said.

“The school were following government and Cleapss advice and guidance. We were left with little time to warn neighbours but followed police and bomb squad disposal advice at every moment, and really people should be very very glad the school and police acted as quickly as they did.”

The explosion was no louder than a loud firework, she said.

At St Alban’s school, an army bomb disposal squad carried out an explosion on the playing fields mid-morning on Tuesday as some pupils were celebrating mass and others were in lessons.

Sean Salter, the school’s business manager, told the Ipswich Star the soldiers turned up after colleagues phoned 999 the previous day. “The students were in lessons and half the school were in an All Saints Day mass in our sports hall,” he said.

“The bang was a lot louder than they told me it was going to be. They turned up unannounced, so we had no time to inform anybody.”

In Wales, controlled blasts were also carried out at two Carmarthenshire schools and a college in Llanelli on Tuesday.

One of the schools, Queen Elizabeth high school in Johnstown, Carmarthen, posted a message on social media: “Along with other schools and colleges across Wales and England, [the school] was alerted this morning that a particular chemical used in A-level chemistry called 2,4-DNPH may be unstable and liable to explosion.

“Following advice from the police, a small stock of this material was removed from the school and destroyed in a controlled explosion by the army at 3.20pm. The classrooms adjacent to the locked chemical store were taken out of use for the day as a safety precaution. This had no impact upon the smooth and safe running of the school.”

Last week Gower college and part of Swansea University were evacuated while controlled blasts to deal with similar chemicals were carried out.

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