Pick up the phone not the potential explosives

Islanders need to use more common sense when dealing with suspected explosives. Sunday's incident was just the latest in a long series of situations where potential explosives are taken to the sheriff's office or transfer station for disposal.

When an unknown potentially explosive item turns up the bomb squad has to travel from the mainland via ferry which takes hours. The area around the potential explosive has to be evacuated. Emergency personnel have to respond to the scene. And as was the case on Sunday, April 12, 2015 an event had to be relocated on short notice - the San Juan Singers moved their concert to the Friday Harbor Presbyterian Church.

Of course if an explosion actually happened the cost would be much higher than lost time and inconvenience.   

If you have suspected explosives, ordnance or chemicals DON'T pick them up and take them anywhere.  Call the Sheriff's Office 360.378.4151 or 9-1-1.  A deputy will come out.  Let experts  determine if something is dangerous or not and how it should be handled.

Sheriff Krebs says people have brought ordnance, grenades, dynamite and other explosive items to the Sheriff's Office.

An example of how dangerous things can get - in 2004, the San Juan Island transfer facility was closed for 10 days after a bottle of picric acid was taken to the dump. In that case it was moved by the county solid waste manager who hadn't realized it was dangerous. (The two articles from 2004 are posted below.) What wasn't included in the story was the fact the truck was almost used for a trip to Orcas Island during the time the bottle was in the box in the truck bed. 

We can't count on being lucky all the time. Please err on the side of caution and pick up the phone. 


Articles about picric acid from 2004 

Potentially explosive situation
at the dump

posted 4:56 p.m. 11/19/04
San Juan Island solid waste transfer station is closed until Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2004 due to the presence of a glass jar containing picric acid. The highly explosive chemical, which is used in the processing of pharmaceuticals, was found in the basement of Spring Street School. The Nash family previously lived in the house and owned Friday Harbor Drug Store.

On Nov. 10, 2004 Friday Harbor fire chief Bob Low contacted San Juan County Soliid Waste Manager Matt Zybas regarding numerous old bottles found in the school's basement during a routine safety inspection.

Using a flashlight Zybas inspected the bottles in the dark basement. Most of the bottles appeared to have contained medicine. Labels describing dosages for adults were on the bottles. Zybas loaded the bottles into sturdy boxes and transported them in a pickup truck to the Public Works parking lot.

On Friday, Nov. 12, he took the chemicals to the San Juan Island Solid Waste Transfer Station and placed the boxes in an area set aside for hazardous materials. On Friday, Nov. 19, Helen Venada, San Juan County hazardous waste coordinator, inspected the materials and informed Zybas of the presence of a bottle of picric acid.

Zybas said the label indicated the solution had been 15 percent water. The water had evaporated and it looked like the acid had crystallized, he said. Picric acid is more dangerous when it has less than 30 percent water.

Friday Harbor Fire Dept was informed of the problem. Part of Roche Harbor Road was closed off and neighbors were told of the situation. Calls were made to find an expert to dispose of the chemical. There is one company in the state of Washington that is contracted to deal with such situations. An expert is expected to arrive on Monday, Nov. 22.

The fire department has secured the chemical in the meantime and the transfer station has been closed until Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2004. Roche Harbor Road is open to traffic.

Deactivation successful



Jim Ward, a chemist from Focus Environmental Management Group sets up for remote deactivation of picric acid.

Photo contributed by Brendan Cowan

 

posted 11/22/04
Experts from Focus Environmental Management Group successfully deactivated highly explosive crystallized picric acid Monday, Nov. 22, 2004 on San Juan Island. The two men told Sheriff Bill Cumming, "it was an incredibly volatile piece of material, that had aged to a very dangerous point." Cumming said, "We are very lucky we didn't have an incident with this."

The old bottle containing the acid was among numerous bottles of old medicine discovered in the basement of Spring Street School on Nov. 10. The building on the corner of Caines and Spring was the former home of Al Nash, who owned Friday Harbor Drug Store. The acid is used in the production of pharmaceuticals.

Friday Harbor Fire Chief Bob Low found the boxes while he conducted a life/safety inspection of the school. The boxes had apparently been there for many years. Low hadn't seen them during previous inspections of the dark, dirt basement. He found them this time while he was inspecting material which had been stored too close to the furnace.

He contacted Matt Zybas, San Juan County solid waste manager. Using a flashlight Zybas inspected the bottles in the dark basement.The bottles appeared to have contained medicine. Labels describing dosages for adults were attached to the bottles. Unaware one of the bottles contained picric acid, Zybas loaded the bottles into sturdy boxes and transported them in a pickup truck to the Public Works parking lot.

On Friday, Nov. 12, he took the boxes to the San Juan Island Solid Waste Transfer Station and placed them in an area set aside for hazardous materials. On Friday, Nov. 19, Helen Venada, San Juan County hazardous waste coordinator, inspected the materials and informed Zybas of the presence of a bottle of picric acid.

Zybas said the label indicated the solution had been 15 percent water. The water had evaporated and it looked like the acid had crystallized, he said. Picric acid is highly explosive when it has less than 30 percent water.

The transfer station was closed. San Juan County Dept. of Emergency Management Director Brendan Cowan contacted the state Dept. of Ecology. He was referred to Focus Environmental Management Group which is certified to remove the explosive. The earliest the experts could be on site was Monday, Nov. 22.

The two men, one from Wisconsin and the other from Lacey, Washington, were transported to the island from Anacortes via the sheriff's boat. Cumming said some of the equipment they carried could not be transported on the ferry.

According to Low, a remote high speed nitrogen-driven drill was attached to the cap of the bottle. A hole was made in the cap and alcohol was added to deactivate the chemical. Friday Harbor firefighters and Engine 7 were on standby at the transfer station during the process.

The transfer station is reopened, and will resume its regular schedule: open for commercial haulers on Tuesday, and the general public on Wedndesday. The center will be closed for business on Thursday and Friday for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Asked who is responsible for the bill, Cumming said that is still to be determined.

Cumming encouraged islanders to contact Helen Venada at San Juan County Public Works 370.0500 if they have questions about any materials found in their homes. "Do not assume because a chemical is old, it is safe," he said. "Often it is quite the opposite."

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