School evacuation

Personnel with Malmstrom Air Force Base remove a hazardous material from the Choteau High School science lab on Wednesday evening. (Acantha photo by Jeff Martinsen)

A hazardous materials disposal unit from Malmstrom Air Force Base is at Choteau High School tonight, working with school officials to remove from the science lab a chemical that may have the potential to be explosive under certain circumstances, the high school principal said at about 7:50 p.m.

The Choteau Volunteer Fire Department and the Choteau ambulance crew were paged out to the high school at 7:26 p.m. to stand by as the hazardous materials unit retrieved the chemical from the building.

Junior High and High School Principal Wendi Hammond on Wednesday evening said the school dismissed students in the high school, junior high and elementary school at 3 p.m. today after a contractor, working to remove outdated and unused chemicals from the high school chemistry and biology labs, found a chemical whose handwritten label could not be clearly read, but indicated a potentially dangerous substance.

 Hammond said the contractor brought the chemical to the attention of Superintendent Chuck Gameon and herself, and said that his company did not have the appropriate license to remove this chemical. The contractor recommended two other services, one of which was the Malmstrom AFB hazardous materials unit.  

Hammond said the school administrators conferred with the contractor and with the Montana School Boards Association and determined that the safest option would be to evacuate staff and students from the school buildings until the MAFB hazardous materials unit could remove and dispose of the chemical. She said they notified parents through the School Messenger program at 3 p.m. and had the students and staff clear of the building and sent home via buses and private transportation by 3:15 p.m.

“We would rather error on the side of being too cautious than being foolish,” Hammond said. She said parents would be notified of whether school would be in session on Thursday via the School Messenger mass call service no later than 6:30 a.m. on Thursday. Choteau Public Schools opened for the fall term on Aug. 28 with an enrollment of about 347 students.