UCO Returns To Normal After Chemical Scare

Thursday, January 12th 2012, 12:07 am
By: Dana Hertneky

Classes are back in session at the University of Central Oklahoma after a highly explosive chemical forced the evacuation of two buildings.

The chemical was crystallized picric acid. Picric acid in its liquid form is flammable, but when it becomes solid and crystallized, it's highly explosive.

"It scared me as much as anybody," said Robert Nordquist, a visiting professor at UCO. Dr. Nordquist was doing some work in his university lab Tuesday night when he discovered the acid. "I lifted it and said ‘Oh, s***!' and told everybody to leave."

1/11/12 Related Story: Explosive Chemical Removed From Lab At UCO

Everyone from the university was gone for the night, so he locked up the room, then alerted officials Thursday morning. Howell Hall and an adjacent building were evacuated. The Edmond bomb squad sent in a robot to retrieve the chemical while the fire department stood by with hoses ready in case the robot dropped it.

"It could have been a very dangerous situation, however we were safely able to remove the substance and get it out of the building," said Major Kelly Lewis of the Edmond Fire Department.

Dr. Nordquist agrees. He estimates he found about two pounds of the chemical that, if conditions are right, could explode if it was simply picked up.

"It would have caused maybe a major catastrophe,"

Dr. Nordquist believes the chemical was in a storage room, and then was accidentally moved to his lab just recently with some other chemicals.

He thinks the chemical had been in storage for 50 years or longer.

"The older it gets, the more dangerous it is," he says.

Dr. Nordquist credits the Edmond Fire Department and bomb squad for taking care of the matter quickly. And the university for its response.

No one was injured in the incident.