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Canisters drum up hazmat response

Post-Bulletin staff

Authorities this morning were expected to remove several military-style canisters that threw a scare into authorities Thursday.

The canisters, which date from the Cold War era, were discovered south of Rochester International Airport.

Police weren’t sure what to make of the canisters and guarded them at a safe distance overnight, said Capt. Joe Loftus of Olmsted County Homeland Security.

"Nobody touched them yet — you’re dealing with the unknown," Loftus said early this morning.

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The Rochester Fire Department’s chemical assessment team finally determined that the containers contained a compound the military used years ago, said Assistant Fire Marshall Jason Whitney this morning. It appears to be some sort of cleaning agent that was available to consumers until 1990, Whitney said.

"It doesn’t appear to be anything overly hazardous," he said.

Someone had apparently deposited the canisters at the site on Minnesota Highway 30, south of the airport, which is where city street sweepers dump the sand from cleaning the streets, Loftus said. A city worker discovered the canisters about 1 p.m. Thursday and called police.

Helping with the response were the Rochester Hazardous Materials and Chemical Assessment Team, the FBI, Minnesota National Guard, Rochester Police and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Officials contacted the military to get more information on what might be in the olive-colored canisters, based on the numbers on them, Loftus said. They’re apparently at least 20 years old.

Officials secured the site, not allowing people to enter.

The materials were determined to not be explosive, Loftus said.

Post-Bulletin reporters Jeffrey Pieters and Heather Carlson, and local news editor Mike Klein contributed to this report.

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