IRS receiving room quarantined after substance discovered in envelope
OGDEN, Utah (AP) – Ten people were sent to the hospital Wednesday night after an employee at the IRS’ busiest tax return processing center opened an envelope containing a blue powder-like substance.
The powder was taken for testing to the Dugway Proving Grounds, an Army chemical and biological weapons testing site in western Utah. It has been determined that the substance is not a biological agent, although it still is not known exactly what it is.
The envelope was opened in the area where returns are opened and sorted. Three employees who came in close contact with the envelope appeared to break out in rashes. Kim Carlos, a spokeswoman for the IRS, said it wasn’t clear whether the rashes were a reaction to the powder.
The 10 employees were examined and released from a local hospital.
The powder was in an envelope within an envelope, in which there was also a 1040-EZ tax return and a threatening letter. It was not known whether the tax return had been filled out, signed or whether it was bait to get the second envelope opened.
Carlos said about 125 employees were on the night shift. She said return-sorting operations were moved to another part of the building and work continued.
The large, heavily secured receiving room – which can hold as many as 400 workers during the busiest time of year – remains quarantined until it’s determined exactly what the blue powder is.
The Ogden IRS Service Center is the nation’s largest regional service center. Last year it processed more than 20 million business and individual tax returns from 14 western states. It issued 13.3 million refunds totaling more than $21 billion for the same year.
Carlos said despite this year’s April 17 tax deadline, the volume of incoming returns is not extreme this week. She said the number of returns that come into the center doesn’t increase drastically until the week leading up to the deadline.
Carlos said while it’s not unusual to get threats, especially this time of year, receiving a package containing a potentially dangerous substance is much less common.
Between 5,000 and 6,500 employees work at the Ogden center, depending on the time of year.