Guys, live cannonballs are not recyclable. Ask me how I know.

Workers at the recycling center found the cannonball on the processing line.
Workers at the recycling center found the cannonball on the processing line. (Image credit: Courtesy of the Kent County Department of Public Works)

A recycling center in Michigan was recently evacuated after someone tried to recycle a Civil War cannonball. 

Officials with the police and fire departments in Grand Rapids, Michigan, received a call on May 19 that a cannonball dating to the Civil War had been discovered on the processing line at the Kent County Recycling Center, a representative with the county's  Department of Public Works told Live Science in an email. 

After inspecting the cannonball, authorities determined that it was "live ordnance" filled with gunpowder and capped with a detonator, and the premises were promptly evacuated.

Related: Busted: 6 Civil War myths

A police report described the object as measuring 6 inches (15 centimeters) in diameter and weighing about 6 lbs. (3 kilograms), the Detroit Free Press reported.

"The Michigan State Police Bomb Squad responded, and it was safely removed from the property," the Public Works representative told Live Science. "There were no injuries and work at the Recycling Center resumed normally on Wednesday, May 20."

In case the lesson from this incident was unclear to Grand Rapids residents, Kent County Commissioner Phil Skaggs posted a firm reminder on Facebook that people should follow instructions about recycling.

"Just to be clear: DO NOT RECYCLE CANNONBALLS FROM ANY WAR!" Skaggs wrote.

Even "beyond cannonballs," items that can pose a hazard to workers should never be recycled, such as ammunition, propane tanks and syringes, the Public Works representative added in the email.

It is unknown if the person who dropped off the cannonball in Michigan acted alone. But during the Civil War, loading and firing a cannon was a team effort that took as many as 10 people to accomplish, according to the American Battlefield Trust, a nonprofit that preserves historic battlegrounds.

Michigan officials were wise to be cautious about handling the discarded cannonball; though the Civil War ended more than 150 years ago, explosive weapons from that era can still be dangerous. In 2008, a Civil War hobbyist in Virginia named Sam White died while restoring a 75-lb. (34 kg) cannonball in his driveway. The sphere exploded, killing White and blasting shrapnel onto the porch of a neighbor's house about a quarter-mile (half a kilometer) away, CBS News reported that year

More recently, in 2016, Hurricane Matthew uncovered a pile of 16 Civil War cannonballs on a beach in South Carolina; authorities determined that many "contained old and very unstable gunpowder," and the weapons were destroyed with the help of the U.S. Air Force Explosive Team, Live Science previously reported.

Originally published on Live Science.

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Mindy Weisberger
Live Science Contributor

Mindy Weisberger is an editor at Scholastic and a former Live Science channel editor and senior writer. She has reported on general science, covering climate change, paleontology, biology, and space. Mindy studied film at Columbia University; prior to Live Science she produced, wrote and directed media for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Her videos about dinosaurs, astrophysics, biodiversity and evolution appear in museums and science centers worldwide, earning awards such as the CINE Golden Eagle and the Communicator Award of Excellence. Her writing has also appeared in Scientific American, The Washington Post and How It Works Magazine.

  • Ogamol
    Good to know.
  • Crownlife
    Folks. This is a shot for shot put--a track and field event. This is an older style shot I have seen in high school. It has an outer shell of brass or steel, and a slot screw cap to fill with lead to bring it up to exact weight. A similar shot was identified a few years ago as a Nelco brand brass shot, 4 kilograms, which are still being sold in track & field supply catalogs today. It was found in a person's back yard in NJ, and the Atlantic City police bomb squad still thought it was a cannonball and "detonated" it. It was a more modern shot with the two spanner wrench holes (similar to some bicycle rear hubs) in place of the older slot screw design.