JEFFERSON CITY - A federal investigation into radioactive gas has been confirmed by the Natural Resources Department .
An official with Missouri's Natural Resources Department confirmed Friday that there was an active investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office involving radioactive material but declined further comment.
The department cannot "comment on the situation due to an active investigation into the matter by the United States Attorney's Office," said Mark Conner, spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources Waste Management program.
Conner referred all questions to Don Ledford, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office Western District.
Ledford said as a matter of procedure the U.S. Attorney's Office does not comment until charges are filed. Ledford refused to confirm if an investigation was even going on in the matter, referring all questions back to the Natural Resources Department.
A state environmental official said last week that the department found radioactive gas being illegally stored in the Columbia area within the last month. The official asked to remain unnamed.
Jessie Haden, a spokeswoman for the Columbia Police Department, said her department had no record of radioactive gasses being illegally stored in Columbia within the last month.
Haden said matters involving hazardous gasses are generally dealt with by the Natural Resources Department, though they may contact the Police Department for support reasons. She said that if police were contacted in a support role, a report would not necessarily be generated.
Haden said that if the gas was found outside of the Columbia city limits, Natural Resources Department would have contacted the Boone County Sheriff's Department. Calls to the Boone County Sheriff's Department were directed to Major Tom Reddin and had not been returned Wednesday.
The environmental official cited a version of the element germanium as the type of gas found by the department.
Paul Sharp, an instructor in the MU chemistry department, said common forms of germanium gas can either be germanium tetra-hydride or tetra-methyl germanium.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said short-term exposure to germanium tetra-hydride can result in high-risk health problems.
Phil Silverman, another chemistry professor at MU, said inhalation of the gas is not recommended for humans.
"It's not good for you," Silverman said.
Silverman said germanium is not a gas under normal circumstances. Germanium as a solid, Silverman said, can be used as a semi-conductor of electricity. He added that he could not speculate on why germanium would be used without knowing the exact chemical compound.
He also said he could not think of a reason why someone would be storing the gas.
Connor would neither confirm nor deny that the gas was germanium.