Chemical expert's Gladstone police station 'explosive' scare

WHEN Andrew Batterson was called into Gladstone police station to assess a "white powder" he had no idea how dangerous the substance was.

It was shortly after of the 9-11 attack in the US when there were a number of incidents of people sending "anthrax" to various government buildings in Australia.

The white powder was in a container and had been sitting in the station for a while before he turned up.

Andrew Batterson Photo David Sparkes/The Observer GLA230311choi11
Andrew Batterson Photo David Sparkes/The Observer GLA230311choi11

Not long after arriving at the station the volunteer Fire Scientific Unit member discovered the material was highly explosive and could have ripped him apart from the waist down.

Mr Batterson has been a member of the QFES scientific unit since 1998 and was recently awarded the National Medal for his service to the community.

The occupational health and safety risk assessor is the person emergency services call when they have no idea what hazard or potentially dangerous chemical substance they're dealing with.

He's been called to help out at with backyard explosions, clandestine drug labs and crashes involving trains, planes and trucks carrying dangerous materials.

Although Mr Batterson usually gets two or three calls a year, last Friday he was on scene at the fatal crash on Hanson Rd where tanks on a Chemtrans truck were believed to be ruptured and spilling dangerous material on to the road and waterway.

"We are purely scientific advisers and it's a great opportunity to help and give back to the community," Mr Batterson said.

"Usually when something has crashed or exploded the information about what it is isn't there.

"So what we'll do is identify what it is, minimise whatever it is from escalating and help with how the firies should handle the situation," he said.

With a pager attached to his belt and a 4four-wheel-drive vehicle packed full of thick scientific books, safety equipment and chemical testing kits, Mr Batterson is on call 24-7.

But his job isn't always as exciting as it may seem.

He has been called out to chemical spills in supermarkets and reports of sodium cyanide, which turned out to be water, leaking from a train.

"It's good to be able to add some science into the equation," he said.

"The firies are keen to have us there and we get supported by them.

"They go out of their way to resource us so we can get a more reliable and protective outcome."