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Truth (not quite) stranger than fiction

Truth (not quite) stranger than fiction

Date Published: 29-Jul-16

Some interesting things present themselves to the Media and Communications Manager of an organisation such as ChemCentre, so when Jean Burton came across this oddly patterned object, she wondered just what kind of work had been going on in the laboratories near her office.
“I came across this strange vial soon after I started working here a year ago, and wanted to get to the bottom of the story,” Jean said. “It’s been a bit of a mystery to me and everyone seemed to know a little bit about it, but a different bit, so it was hard for me to put the pieces of the puzzle together.”

One of the strengths of ChemCentre is a depth of knowledge and corporate memory, and now long-term employee and Emergency Response Manager Dr Steve Wilkinson has been able to put the mystery to rest.

“That little vial turned up in the staff lunch room of a workplace a couple of years back and prompted a call to the police, which in turn led to a full emergency response from several agencies, including ChemCentre,” Steve said.

“No-one knew quite what it was, and the list of possibilities included some incredibly nasty options.”

When emergency response officers deal with something like this, where the chemical is unknown but potentially lethal, caution must dictate action, just in case the worst-case scenario turns out to be true.

“If a vial that size – it was about 15 cm long and about 3cm in diameter – contained a chemical warfare agent, it could be enough to wipe out the Australian population,” Steve said. “So there was understandably widespread reluctance to handle it. We couldn’t risk breaking it open to enable testing, so we were investigating means of destroying it safely.

“Fortunately, we discovered its origin before any drastic – and very expensive – action was taken.”

It turns out the vial was a film prop and its appearance in the lunch room either a hoax or a joke that went wrong.

“The prop was made by Perth-based company Plumb for a telemovie 'Rapture of the Deep' in 2006 (a German-Australian production, filmed in WA), about WWII chemical weapons,” Steve said.

“The incident highlighted the importance of ChemCentre’s emergency response capability – then and now. Pranksters like this waste valuable time and resources because they have to be taken seriously until proven otherwise. But we will always take the appropriate precautions to ensure the safety of the WA community.”

For more information, you can read about our emergency response team here

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