Hundreds of potentially lethal metals balls were stolen during a raid on an industrial firm by bungling burglars.
The 200 balls, which had been in a solution of cyanide and other chemicals, were taken when thieves broke into Silverfield Ltd, an aerospace metal treatment business on Poulton Industrial Estate, in the early hours of Sunday.
Now police are warning that “improper use” of the metal could prove “fatal” and hospitals have been put on alert for patients presenting with symptoms of poisoning.
Sgt Jim Ormand, of Lancashire Police, said: “On the face of it, they appear to be made from lead, when in fact they have traces of the poison cyanide and need to be handled and disposed of in a safe way.”
Cyanide is a highly toxic chemical which can cause a fatality from only a small amount, by shutting down the body, but as a chemical compound it holds various uses in industrial or biochemistry.
The balls, which measure around 1.5in in diameter and resemble “little cannon balls”, are kept in the chemical treatment before being electroplated for use in aerospace engineering.
They could pose a threat if the cyanide from them were inhaled or if a person touched them and then put their hands to their mouth.
Giles Berkley, managing director of Silverfield Ltd, said: “I think they (the thieves) have probably mistaken them for something of commercial value, lead or silver plating, which they’re not.
“It’s not the balls that are the problem though, it’s what they were immersed in. Cyanide is a poison. It’s in a diluted form but it is a health risk.”
Bosses at the company, which has been operating on the industrial estate for 20 years, said their first concern on learning of the break-in was the risk the equipment could pose.
Mr Berkley added: “We wouldn’t want anything to happen to these people. The thieves probably had gloves on, which is the way of their trade. There is a remote possibility of anyone being injured.
“But if they dump them and a child picks them up then that’s a nightmare scenario.”
Police are now appealing for the balls to be safely handed in.
Sgt Ormand added: “We are urging anyone who may have any information about the location of these potentially hazardous balls to get in contact with us as soon as possible.
“If you have these items in your possession, please be mindful that the consequences of handling them improperly could be fatal.
“If you have been offered these items for sale, please do make contact with us. Similarly, if you are wanting to hand these in, please call us prior to doing so.”
Anybody with any information can contact Lancashire Police on 101 quoting incident reference 797 of March 15.