Mysterious powder sparks Ogden evacuation

Apr 28 2011 - 10:57pm

Images

(KRISTIN HEINICHEN/Standard-Examiner)
A Weber Fire District Special Operations team member holds a suspicious powder in a bag discovered at the James V. Hansen Federal Building on 25th Street in downtown Ogden on Thursday. The powder was negative for radiological substances.
(KRISTIN HEINICHEN/Standard-Examiner)
Weber Fire District Special Operations team members at the James V. Hansen Federal Building on 25th Street in downtown Ogden on Thursday.
(KRISTIN HEINICHEN/Standard-Examiner) 
Weber Fire District Special Operations personnel were hosed down after responding at the James V. Hansen Federal Building in Ogden on Thursday.
(KRISTIN HEINICHEN/Standard-Examiner)
A Weber Fire District Special Operations team member holds a suspicious powder in a bag discovered at the James V. Hansen Federal Building on 25th Street in downtown Ogden on Thursday. The powder was negative for radiological substances.
(KRISTIN HEINICHEN/Standard-Examiner)
Weber Fire District Special Operations team members at the James V. Hansen Federal Building on 25th Street in downtown Ogden on Thursday.
(KRISTIN HEINICHEN/Standard-Examiner) 
Weber Fire District Special Operations personnel were hosed down after responding at the James V. Hansen Federal Building in Ogden on Thursday.

OGDEN -- The James V. Hansen Federal Building was evacuated Thursday after an envelope addressed to the IRS was found to contain an unknown powder.

Approximately 200 employees were evacuated from the building at 324 25th St. and sent home. A handful were kept in the building and decontaminated by hazardous materials teams wearing hazmat suits with air tanks.

The FBI is in charge of the investigation.

Debbie Dujanovic Bertram, spokeswoman for the Salt Lake City FBI office, said in an email Thursday evening that a field test of the substance by the Ogden Fire Department was "negative for any radiological substances." Biological testing is being conducted at a lab, and no one in the area where the substance was found has experienced any symptoms.

The incident is the second of its kind in the area in a week. On Friday, a white powdery substance was found at an IRS building in Farr West. The substance turned out to be harmless.

Chad Porter, of the Forest Service office on the third floor, said an email advised workers the white powdery substance was on the sixth floor in an IRS office and gave employees the option of leaving.

Then an alarm sounded and the building was evacuated, he said, with everyone sent home on administrative leave.

Bertram said all of the employees who were quarantined inside the federal building had been or were in the process of being released from the scene and sent home as of 4:30 p.m. The incident was reported at 12:27 p.m.

Although the sixth floor of the building will remain closed, she said, it's expected the building will reopen today.

But she would not confirm even that the powdery substance was white or release details on the duties of the IRS employees who were exposed.

"We take this very seriously, and we need to protect the integrity of this investigation," Bertram said. "This type of situation provokes fear."

She declined to say how much powder was found or where it was being sent for testing, except that it would be a certified laboratory.

"It's too soon to say if this is an actual threat or if it's connected to any other events or organizations," she said. "The priority is securing the scene and the safety of the people involved. Then the investigation unfolds."

Ogden Deputy Fire Chief Chad Tucker, in a 3 p.m. briefing with media on the sidewalk in front of the building, said four people were in the room when the envelope was opened.

The four showed no symptoms, he said, and were being decontaminated inside the building, which has shower facilities. They were told they would be losing the clothing they wore to work, and friends or relatives should bring a change of clothes, he said, or officials would provide something for them to wear home.

Bertram said a total of 11 employees went through decontamination procedures with hazmat crews as a precaution.

Tucker said the letter with the powder was addressed to the IRS and did not look suspicious from the outside. He and Bertram said they did not know if it had a return address or if anything else was inside the envelope.

The building's heating/air-conditioning system was turned off.

"We have to assume it is a threat," Tucker said.

The Weber County Hazardous Materials Force, an association of jurisdictions sharing resources and personnel, responded to the scene, Tucker said. In total, five Ogden Fire Department units responded to the federal building along with single hazmat units from Weber Fire District, North View Fire Department, and South Ogden Fire Department.

Multiple Ogden police patrol cars blocked off 25th Street in front of the federal building.

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