Tim Collins /News Staff
When 1-800-GOT-JUNK? arrived Monday morning at a residential property on Seaboard Crescent in Central Saanich they assumed it would be a simple matter of picking up some of the detritus that most homes tend to accumulate and eventually purge as the years go by.
This call, however, was destined to be different.
The two workers had been tasked with removing a collection of junk from an outbuilding; material that had ostensibly been left behind by a previous owner, but in amongst old VCR tapes and assorted rubbish was a bag containing a coffee can which, when handled by the crew came open and released a white powder.
The reaction was an immediate eye irritation and difficulty in breathing and, recognizing that they had been exposed to something unusual, the workers contacted emergency services. The police and fire department responded as did the the BC Hazmat Management Ltd. (a private contractor specializing in hazardous material cleanup).
The first order of business involved caring for the two workers who needed to remove clothing and, after a decontamination process, donned coveralls provided by the responders. They were transported to hospital where they were treated and released.
By that time, the material had been removed and tested and found to a compound called chlorobenzalmalonitile, a component of CS gas, or tear gas.
Given that the material had been abandoned years earlier by an unidentified owner (who sources have tied to a career in military or law enforcement), and due to the understanding that the current owner had no knowledge of what was in the coffee can, no charges were laid and no further action is planned by the police.
Still, it has given Deputy Chief Derren Lench of the Central Saanich police pause.
“You do wonder sometimes why someone would keep something like that. Items like that can certainly be dangerous and I just think that, sometimes, people keep things without considering the consequences,” he said.
For Troy Edroff, the operations manager for 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, the situation is unfortunate, but not all together surprising.
“It doesn’t happen often, but maybe once a year or so we come across something very strange and have to call in the proper authorities to deal with something our crews are called to remove,” he said.
”Of course we’re not going to deal with poisons or explosive items or hazardous chemicals. Those things aren’t normal junk and have to be removed by specialists. And certainly, if you have something like that, it’s important that you identify the material and ask about it before just putting it on the pile to be removed,” said Edroff.
“In this case, the homeowner just didn’t know what he had.”