Firefighters and other emergency response crews arrived at the North River Collaborative School in Rockland on Tuesday after a science teacher found a likely decades-old jar of potentially explosive sodium in a filing cabinet, officials said.
Firefighters arrived at the school around 8 a.m. after receiving a call from a science teacher who was getting his classroom ready for the start of the school year. While prepping the room, the teacher found a cardboard box containing a mason jar full of about two pounds of sodium, Rockland Fire Chief Scott Duffey said.
The teacher had no intention of using the sodium, and wasn’t sure of how to properly dispose of it, so he called the fire department. Firefighters “found some conditions that concerned [them],” Duffey said, so they called on the state’s hazmat team to help. The hazmat team arrived with members of the State Police bomb squad, who are cross-trained on dealing with hazardous explosive materials, Duffey said.
Sodium, the element that when combined with chlorine makes table salt, is highly explosive on its own. One of the six alkali metals on the periodic table, it can explode when it comes in contact with water or air, which is why it is usually stored in oil. In this case, the sodium was in a mason jar, which is “not an appropriate container,” Duffey said.
Firefighters believe the sodium had been in the filing cabinet for up to 30 years, and the teacher who found it, who has worked at the school for more than 20 years, had never used it, Duffey said.
“The school was being very proactive in removing the chemicals. They were doing nothing wrong,” Duffey said. “I’m happy that they called us and involved us in the process.”
The sodium was taken to a nearby recycling center and rendered safe by being blown up by the responding crews. There were eight to 10 other chemicals left at the school that are considered dangerous, but not a public threat, Duffey said. Those chemicals will be disposed of by a private company hired by the school, police spokesman John Guilfoil said in a statement.
The sodium was unlikely to explode anytime soon, but school officials and firefighters felt the chemical needed to be removed before anything dangerous happened, Michael Laliberte, director of business services at North River Collaborative, said.
“On a scale of one to 10, this is a 1.5” in terms of the danger the sodium posed to the school, Laliberte said. “They were being ultra-cautious.”
Classes at the middle and high school, which is designed for students with social and emotional challenges, begin next week.