Nelson City Council has closed Founders Heritage Park while the Defence Force’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit (EOD) assesses potentially hazardous materials found among the Park’s collection.

Council, along with many other organisations around the country, recently carried out a review of the collection at Founders Heritage Park following the discovery of picric acid in a Southland museum

An examination of the Park’s inventory found a number of bottles and other items containing potentially hazardous substances. Picric acid is suspected to be present, but this has not been confirmed.

Picric acid was widely used in early forms of medicine and medical supplies, including on gauze pads and as an antiseptic, but can be volatile and explosive under certain circumstances.

As a precaution, Council closed two of the Park’s collection storage areas, and the public apothecary and hospital displays late last week, and contacted the New Zealand Police on Monday as the first step in having the items checked.

As a result, on Tuesday 20 July, Founders was closed to the public and its tenants asked to evacuate for the day to allow members of the New Zealand Defence Force’s EOD team to assess the items. Neighbouring Whakatū Marae was asked to evacuate one building, closest to the Park.

A New Zealand Defence Force spokesperson said NZDF’s EOD personnel have been called out to a number of picric acid requests for assistance following museums around the country reviewing their collections. 

“Picric acid is a yellow, toxic substance. It is stable when hydrated but becomes flammable when water content is below 30% and it presents a high explosive hazard when dry. Dry picric acid is sensitive to heat, shock and friction.
"If a member of the public finds any items or substances that they are concerned about, they should contact the NZ Police to ensure their safety and the safety of those around them."

Any items considered hazardous by the EOD will be removed from the Park. All the items will be safely disposed of by the EOD.

Group Manager Community Services Andrew White said while there is no immediate risk to the public, every precaution is being taken to ensure the health and safety of the Park’s staff and visitors.

“This chemical, if it is present at Founders, represents an unacceptable level of risk, and we’re working as swiftly as we can to identify and remove any hazardous items safely and appropriately.”

The public is asked to please stay away from the Park for the day, but roads around Founders Park remain open.