Knox bomb squad called for crystals found in Rocky Top

The Knox County bomb squad had to be called last week to dispose of picric acid that was found inside an old first aid kit that was on display in the Rocky Top Coal Miner’s museum. Picric acid is a pale yellow, odorless chemical compound that becomes hazardous over time as the water in the solution evaporates and the dry acid crystals become sensitive to heat and friction, increasing the likelihood of explosion.

The substance was often included in first aid kits and medical supplies around the turn-of-the 20th century and into the 1950s. Picric acid was commonly found soaked in medical gauze and used primarily to treat burns.

One of the museum curators came to the Rocky Top Fire Department on Halloween night and reported they had seen some picric acid in a first aid display kit.

“Picric acid used to be used in schools and labs long ago. When it dries out it becomes a shock explosive,” explained Rocky Top Fire Chief Ronnie Spitzer in a phone interview Tuesday morning.

Spitzer said his department contacted the Anderson County Emergency Management Organization and Knox County bomb squad to assist in the disposal. Knox County bomb squad arrived at the museum on Nov. 1, the following morning, and safely removed the substance from the premises.

They also assessed some dynamite that was on display because the curators were concerned that the dynamite was ‘live’ dynamite. The bomb squad determined it was ‘dummy dynamite’ used for show and was ‘inert,’ Spitzer related.

“We didn’t have to blow it up [the dynamite],” he said, quelling rumors that it was the fire department that had disposed of the substance. “We didn’t even touch the picric acid. We let Knox County bomb squad handle that.”