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Bomb squad called to 55 Northern Ireland schools to dispose of explosive chemical

By Adrian Rutherford

Bomb disposal experts were sent out to more than 50 schools across Northern Ireland amid fears over a potentially dangerous chemical.

The Army carried out dozens of controlled explosions of 2,4 dinitrophenylhydrazine (DNPH) last October and November.

A total of 55 schools were affected — significantly more than the 14 locations reported at the time.

They included Grosvenor Grammar in Belfast, Ballymena Academy, Loreto Grammar in Omagh and Enniskillen Integrated College.

De La Salle College in Belfast and Dungannon’s Integrated College are also on the list.

Across the UK, the bomb squad was called out 594 times to schools or colleges between October 21 to December 21.

Controlled explosions were carried out at least 589 times.

On four occasions visits were “doubled up”, meaning the issue had been previously reported and dealt with.

The figures were released by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) after a Freedom of Information request by the BBC.

The chemical at the centre of the alert — 2,4-DNPH — is used in chemistry lessons.

Usually kept inside a large container holding water, it becomes dangerous if allowed to dry out and can pose a risk of explosion through shock, friction or fire.

Dr David Kinnison, a chemical safety adviser, said the number of alerts was not a surprise because schools “did exactly as they were instructed”.

“As a safety professional, I would always err on the side of caution,” he told the BBC.

“Yes, there could have been possible other ways of dealing with this. However, the schools were presented with this advice.

“The positive is that a material which potentially could be unsafe was made safe and the bomb disposal squads gained some valuable experience.”

A breakdown showed 38 call-outs to schools in west Yorkshire, 23 to schools in Kent and 22 in the Hertfordshire area.

The MoD said it cost almost £90,000 for the chemical to be dealt with schools at in England. It is still calculating the cost for  other parts of the UK.

A spokesperson added: “We’ve been working with the Armed Forces and the police to support schools with any necessary disposals.”

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