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Explosive chemicals discovered in Voorhees College Lab Print E-mail

A potentially dangerous situation was averted Thursday, May 13, when 18-quarter size canisters of the chemical, (Dieythl Ether) were removed from the Alan M. Voorhees Science and Technology Center Laboratory, on the campus of Voorhees College in Denmark.

Because of the highly unstable nature of the crystallized form of Dieythl Ether, Fred Ungaretta, of the Virginia-based National Environmental Management Service (NEMS), who is one of only a few people in the country trained to handle those types of situations was called in to stabilize the chemical.

“It’s flammable, highly flammable, that’s what so scary about it,” Ungaretta, who took approximately an hour to remove the chemicals said. Adding,” over time it forms peroxides which are very unstable, just turning the cap could cause it to explode,” he said.

Denmark Fire Chief Charles Breland, stated that the potentially explosive chemical was found Monday by an inspector with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that was checking the lab for different chemicals when the canisters of Dieythl Ether, believed to be approximately 25 years old were discovered.

The Chief noted that when the fire department became aware of the potential danger from the chemical, “to be on the safe side” the recommendation was made that the Head Start Program and Day Care Center located near the Denmark Technical College Campus not open on Thursday because one entrance to those programs was within 1,000 feet of Voorhees College.

Denmark Olar School District Two officials were given the option of keeping open or closing the Denmark Olar Elementary School because it was located outside the 1,000 feet radius of the college and was considered not to be in any immediate danger of a possible explosion.

Assistant Denmark Fire Chief Paul Eubanks, noted that originally, the department was informed that evacuations needed to be done within a-mile-radius of the college, until an inspection discovered that the situation was not as bad as thought.

“We prepared big and luckily it was smaller than what we thought,” Chief Breland said.

Voorhees College Public Information Director Teesa Brunson, said the EPA Inspection that found the chemicals was part of an audit requested by the college “to see if we were up to date on everything and to see if our students were safe," Brunson said. Brunson noted that Voorhees College students were away from campus on summer vacation, with graduation having been held last week and summer school starting the following week.

Bamberg County Emergency Services, Public Information Officer, Stacey Frank said that the County EMS was involved to “provide support, resources and for safety purposes to support the Denmark Fire Department, who was the lead agency on the scene being a hazmat situation,” Frank said.

Agencies assisting with the effort at Voorhees College on Thursday were: The Denmark Fire Department; Denmark Police Department; Voorhees College; Denmark Technical College; Bamberg County Sheriff’s Office and Bamberg County Emergency Services.

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