Flashing lights shine in front of the Southern Utah State College Science Building late at night. A man in a protective suit enters the building, and a while later a small convoy heads to the rifle range, again with flashing lights. Shortly after that an explosion is heard.
A bomb scare at the SUSC campus? Actually it's just some "housecleaning" in the science department, using new but rather elaborate government procedures.According to Al Tait, dean of the School of Science, and Michael Donovan, associate professor of biology, the science department has been in the process of taking inventory of supplies, getting rid of chemicals no longer used and replacing obsolete chemicals with smaller inventories of newer, safer substances.
The inventory turned up some old supplies of three potentially explosive reagents - ether, picric acid and trinitrobenzin, which were not needed in the schools' inventory. For example, Tait said, picric acid was used at one time for killing animal and plant cells to prepare them for microscope slides, but the class in which it was used is no longer taught.
State agencies were consulted about the best way to get rid of the old chemicals.
"They're not something you can just throw in a landfill," Tait said.
As it turned out, the proper method for disposing of the old chemicals was simply to blow them up. But that required elaborate government safety precautions. Arrangements were made for a hazardous materials specialist from the Utah Highway Patrol and a private contractor to fly down from Salt Lake City on Monday, Sept. 24, about noon to handle the disposal.
However, foul weather kept delaying the flight and it was finally decided to have the team drive to Cedar City. Arriving late at night, they weren't able to get the project done until around 1 a.m. Tuesday morning. Donovan said the late arrival actually worked out for the best, as the contractor removed the chemicals without disruption while wearing a special protective suit.
The team then took the reagents to the rifle range to detonate them. Because the chemicals were not very volatile, Donovan said, it was difficult to set them off, but when they were finally detonated, they "definitely made a bang."
The Tuesday morning operation eliminated the last of the potentially explosive material once used by the science department and accompanies other major changes.
A planned renovation of the 55,000-square-foot science center has been set aside due to a multitude of structural problems found in the building. With a verbal go-ahead from the State Board of Regents, plans are under way to build an entirely new 80,000-square-foot science center, and the funding request will be taken to the Utah Legislature in January 1991.