Discovery of old chemicals brings bomb squad to school
by Clarke Davis
Whether or not old chemical compounds found in a high school science room at Valley Falls were dangerous last week, everyone involved decided to err on the side of caution.
The incident began mid-afternoon Aug. 15 when new physics and chemistry teacher Bob Ostmeyer discovered the chemicals and ended about 7:40 p.m. when a bomb squad destroyed them.
Ostmeyer was taking inventory of his classroom and preparing for the start of school when he came across the chemicals. It’s believed they had been stored in the classroom since the early 1970s.
Not sure how volatile the aged chemicals were or even what they were, school authorities called Jefferson County Emergency Management Director Mike Baxter to find out the best way to dispose of it. Baxter in turn called the state fire marshal and that resulted in the Topeka Police Department’s bomb squad coming to Valley Falls.
District 11 Fire Chief John Gordon said the squad called an FBI laboratory to gain further insight into what they might be handling.
The chemical was identified as benzoyl peroxide, a common ingredient used as an acne cream, but in a concentrated form can be explosive. The chemical was old enough to have crystallized.
Ultimately two bomb squad members suited up with one carrying the container to the elevator on the third floor and sending it down to a second man who carried it to a “bomb box.”
The squad then transported the container to public land near the bridge on the north end of town. Gordon said a couple of sticks of dynamite were used to blow it up and destroy it.
District 11 Fire and Rescue personnel kept streets blocked and stood ready to assist.
Superintendent Loren Feldkamp expressed gratitude to the teacher for alerting the school and doing the right thing.
School had not taken up yet, but two events were canceled. A meeting with parents and students about iPads and freshman orientation were postponed until this week.
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