Man discovers unwanted treasure in his backyard

Police say to throw flammable material in the trash, refuse company tells him 'absolutely not'

Posted: Sunday, May 17, 2009

Brian Weed got an unwanted and frustrating responsibility on Friday morning when he found a flammable hazardous material.

David J. Sheakley / The Juneau Empire
David J. Sheakley / The Juneau Empire

Weed, 28, was chopping wood on his property near 17 mile on Glacier Highway when he came across a small, silver safe that he said looked like a kid's piggy bank.

"We were going to pop it open with a splitting maul and thought better of it and used a screwdriver and a rubber hammer, expecting to see G.I. Joe action figures or something," he said. "And low and behold a container, it almost looks like it's from a science class or something, a container of thermite."

Thermite (also spelled thermit) is a pyrotechnic composition used in welding, cutting through metal and making incendiary bombs. It also is used in fireworks and pipe bombs. Thermite is not explosive but it can produce high levels of heat for a short period of time if ignited.

"Basically it could melt through your stove, through your house and down to your foundation if it caught fire," Weed said.

Alarmed at the discovery due to the container's warning labels, Weed decided to call the Juneau Police Department.

"It's basically a chemical mixture of two metals, one being aluminum powder and the other one being ferric oxide (rust)," Juneau Fire Chief Eric Mohrmann said. "When the two are heated with a very hot heat source to get them started, they go through a chemical change, they release a great deal of heat and the resulting material is a molten metal."

A plainclothes police officer arrived at Weed's house Friday morning and said the thermite was wet so it's not flammable.

"He said 'just throw it in the trash and it will be all right,'" Weed said. "I kind of stewed on that a bit and chopped up some more wood."

Being uncomfortable sending the flammable material to the landfill, Weed called JPD again and said a lieutenant told him the previous officer was correct and that he should simply dispose of it along with his garbage.

"So I called Arrow Refuse and spoke with a woman there and she said 'absolutely not, you cannot throw it in there. That would be illegal and way worse than throwing a car battery or something in the trash,'" Weed said.

Weed tried to contact the city's Household Hazardous Waste division but they were not open and the next cleanup event isn't until May 31. That means he has this container of thermite sitting around at his home.

Mohrmann said thermite is not imminently dangerous and described it as a "pretty stable" material.

"It's difficult to get it ignited," he said, however, "once it's ignited it's just about impossible to put it out. It's self-sustaining."

Weed said he thinks the little silver safe he found probably belonged to a kid of the previous owner that moved out about a year ago, but he can't say for sure. He said it has been frustrating because he's being told it's his problem to deal with because it was on his property.

"It's not like the thing is going to blow up in my yard or anything because it does need an ignition source to ignite," Weed said. "It's the matter of it's a hazardous material that no one will take off my hands, or I don't know how to dispose of it and nobody can help me."

He said he is eager to get rid of the thermite as soon as possible.

"It's kind of been a little bit of a nightmare," Weed said laughing.

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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