Police On Alert By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK Thieves stole a huge amount of potassium cyanide, an extremely dangerous chemical compound that kills instantly even when ingested or inhaled in minute quantities. The theft of these dangerous substance has precipitated a huge security scare and a massive manhunt in the Erongo Region. Ten kilograms of the poisonous substance, which is normally used in the gold mining industry when the precious metal is separated from an ore mixture, was reportedly stolen from a nightclub at Uis. The club operates as such to entertain guests but has a safe where this substance was kept. New Era has learned that the theft was detected from the usual watering hole on Monday, having been ransacked by unknown criminals who in the process carried away the deadly poison. Members of the public are warned about the theft of this lethal chemical that took place at Sunrise Club. The cyanide was apparently "under storage" in an olive-green military-style metal trunk that was under lock and key inside the steel safe in the nightclub. Frans Madl, the owner of the ransacked club, yesterday confirmed the theft. Madl, who is well versed in laboratory matters, said the entire damage to furniture and the building amounted to N$150 000. Potassium cyanide is a white, deliquescent granular powder also found in the form of amorphous lumps, with a faint odour of bitter almonds. A rather agitated Madl yesterday said his greatest fear is that the potassium cyanide could easily wipe out an entire population, if people get exposed to it. "It's enough to kill the whole population of Uis ten times over - this 10 kilograms of potassium cyanide," said Madl, stressing the importance of alerting the people of Uis about the potential danger of this chemical in their midst. "Nobody knew about the poisonous chemicals in this steel trunk, they only took it because of wanting the trunk not the chemicals," he speculated. There is the concern that if the culprits use the cyanide wrongly or if it falls into rogue hands, it has the potential of killing tens of thousands of people. Additional fear is that the people who are currently in possession of these chemicals might open it out of curiosity and could be poisoned. If traces of this chemical get into the ground and mixes with water, they can stay there for a long time and become hazardous for people and nature. Laboratory experts say "this chemical is a poison and fatal if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin." They warn further that this "highly toxic" chemical is so corrosive that even a small quantity can cause sudden loss of consciousness and prompt death in a few minutes. Helga! Auxas, a former employee with Madl said, "Even a spoon of potassium cyanide can kill (many people) instantly," adding that it should have been disposed of a long time ago. Medical technologist at Medlab Services Andra van Staden said that such a chemical must be handled with extreme care as a precautionary measure. "You cannot handle it without gloves or a mask," he said, showing New Era a 500- gram container of potassium cyanide yesterday. "If it lands in the wrong hands it could be fatal," she added. Having worked for many years as head of Exploration Services in Windhoek, Madl thought of setting up his own private laboratory at Uis a decade ago. As a result a lot of chemicals - mostly used in laboratories for gold mining and sampling at Navachab Mine - were properly sealed and packed in the safe of Sunrise Club that belongs to Madl. His intention was to start his own private laboratory business at the town. "We packed these poisonous chemicals there and listed each one by name with quantities in a black book and closed up the metal steel army trunk with a padlock...I don't know how they broke into the safe, because it has never been opened before for ten years," explained Madl. He was previously engaged with Navachab Mine to analyse and assist in the extraction of gold with potassium cyanide out of the ore. He added that he has not yet reported the case to the police at Uis since on many occasions the law enforcement agents, according to him, have been unable to deal with numerous previous break-ins at Sunrise Club. Five years ago, 200 drums of acid were also stolen there and a testing machine for radioactivity also disappeared without trace. Madl claims that even though he reported these ongoing break-ins, the police had failed to investigate the incidents. However, New Era has confirmed that the police are aware of the theft, are currently investigating the matter and are warning the public to report any information about the whereabouts of the trunk load of potassium cyanide.
2006-02-09 00:00:00 12 years ago