Interesting that AP thinks this is a story of national interest... - Ralph Environment Dept. handling chemicals found at UNM http://www.newsday.com/environment-dept-handling-chemicals-found-at-unm-1.1322986 Friday, July 24, 2009 By The Associated Press SUE MAJOR HOLMES (Associated Press Writer) ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Someone left 68 containers of chemicals on a sidewalk outside the University of New Mexico's chemistry building - including some chemicals listed by Homeland Security as items that should be tracked. The state Environment Department, which is investigating, said UNM officials reported there was a note with the containers describing the material as a "donation." "Clearly leaving them on a public sidewalk is not a good solution. It's dangerous for the public and could get you in a lot of trouble," James Bearzi, chief of the department's Hazardous Waste Bureau, said Thursday. A spokeswoman for UNM, Susan McKinsey, said the chemicals do not belong to the school. "As far as we know, some unknown entity left 68 boxes on our campus as a donation," she said. Members of UNM's staff discovered the chemicals July 13 and secured them because of concerns they could be a health threat. UNM believes they were left the previous weekend. Bearzi, who plans to be on campus Friday, said UNM reported nine containers had items listed by the Department of Homeland Security as chemicals of interest - materials that should be tracked because they could become components of explosive, chemical or biological devices. Those include peroxide-forming chemicals UNM described as being in various states of stability, and explosive, highly reactive metals and toxic substances, the Environment Department said. Peroxide is a strong oxidizer and is very reactive, Bearzi said. The chemicals also included sodium metal that was put into mineral oil, which Bearzi said indicates someone knew how to handle that chemical. "Sodium metal can spontaneously combust and detonate. It's a very dangerous material," but someone contained it properly, he said. The 68 containers, liter-size or smaller, were packed in five boxes, Bearzi said. He said he was told there was an inventory with the boxes. "We're not talking about huge quantities but with something like sodium metal you don't need a huge quantity," he said. The Environment Department has hired a contractor, Eberline Services, and subcontractor, Advanced Environmental Services of New Mexico, to work with UNM to arrange for removal of the chemicals. The department is using the Hazardous Waste Emergency Fund to remove and dispose of the materials. Bearzi said the agency is investigating partly to recover its costs. The Environment Department said abandoning the chemicals is considered illegal dumping, which carries a penalty of up to $10,000 a day under state law. Since the chemicals were small quantities properly organized, agency officials speculate they may have come from a small laboratory-type operation that went out of business or did not need the material anymore but did not know how to deal with it, Bearzi said. Commercial entities with such chemicals to get rid of should call the Hazardous Waste Bureau for help, Bearzi said. Albuquerque's hazardous waste department can tell households how to dispose of small quantities of hazardous waste, and many communities hold household hazardous waste disposal days for such things as old paint, thinners, solvents, drain cleaners or pesticides, he said. Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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