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Archive for Tuesday, October 23, 1990

VOLATILE CHEMICAL REMOVED, DETONATED BY BOMB SQUAD

October 23, 1990

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Experts from the Overland Park Bomb Squad on Monday detonated a chemical packing the punch of two sticks of dynamite, leaving a tiny crater in a field south of Lawrence and creating a boom heard miles away.

The explosion occurred about 9:45 p.m., more than seven hours after Kenneth Reeder, a Douglas County sheriff's officer, found the chemical in a carport shed at his mobile home at 1900 W. 31st.

Reeder reported to firefighters that he came across the chemical about 2:40 p.m. while gathering his belongings and preparing to move out of the trailer. Reeder told firefighters that he believed the chemical, which was contained in a 35-ounce bottle, had been stored untouched in the shed for 12 years.

The fire report stated that after examining the fluid and contacting the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, officials determined the bottle contained about 18 ounces of boron-trifluoride-ether complex that had deteriorated and was extremely volatile.

PAUL BELT, an environmental technician with the department of health and environment in Topeka, this morning said organic peroxide crystals begin to form when any type of ether begins to deteriorate.

Belt said organic peroxide crystals are "shock sensitive" and can ignite if they are shaken or bumped. And because any type of ether is extremely volatile, he said, if the crystals ignite it would be like "dropping a match in a can of gasoline."

He said friction from screwing off the lid of the cap could have ignited the chemical.

Therefore, Belt said, he suggested that the chemical be taken in a bomb trailer to a deserted site and detonated.

Lawrence Fire Chief Jim McSwain said exploding the bottle was the safest way to get rid of the chemical.

"There weren't too many volunteers to unscrew the cap, because that would have caused some problems," McSwain said, chuckling.

TWO MEMBERS of the Overland Park Bomb Squad loaded the chemical into their bomb trailer, transported it to a field a half-mile south of 31st and Louisiana, wired it to a detonator and set it off.

A fire report stated that the explosion created a crater 6 inches deep and 8 inches in diameter.

In a telephone interview this morning, Reeder told the Journal-World that his brother brought the chemical to the trailer from a laboratory at Kansas University.

The deputy said his brother, who was living with him at the time, was either a student at KU or was working in the laboratory when he brought the substance home. Reeder said he did not know why his brother brought the ether complex home or what he used it for.

Belt said the ether complex normally is used only for laboratory experiments, unlike common ether, which is contained in some over-the-counter products such as starting fluid.

REEDER TOLD firefighters that he also found bottles of ammonium hydroxide and benzene. Those chemicals, firefighters reported, were not volatile.

Reeder said he didn't think his brother ever used the chemicals around the trailer.

Reeder said he was relieved that he didn't overlook the bottle and leave it for the next occupant. He also was happy that he didn't try to unscrew the lid and pour the liquid out.

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