Suspicious substance causes post office closure in Incline Village
Nevada Appeal News Service
Incline Village – The post office here was evacuated shortly after 9 a.m. Monday and closed for two hours after employees called the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office after they noticed a white powdery substance leaking from a manila envelope.
The substance was later identified by a hazardous-material specialist as cake frosting.
Sheriff’s Office and North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District officials partitioned off the post office entryway and kept people away from the premises while waiting for two hours until haz-mat specialists from the Washoe County Health Department arrived.
Minutes after arriving on the scene, Paul Donald, haz-mat specialist with Washoe County, identified the substance as sugar.
Donald used a portable infrared spectrometer, which can quickly identify 150,000 compounds.
After matching the spectra signature of the substance with that of sucrose, Donald opened the suspicious envelope and found several pieces of San Javier cake wrapped in a plastic bag.
A powdered sugar-type frosting was the white, powdery substance that had caused concern.
The four postal employees who had come in some contact with the envelope were subsequently released from the ambulance, where they had been asked to stay for evaluation and monitoring until the substance was identified.
Washoe County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Ernie Sardella gave the OK to reopen of the post office minutes after the substance was identified.
The post office was back in operation before 11 a.m.
Fire-protection district Battalion Chief Greg McKay said the actions taken by the district followed standard protocol: isolate, identify, and cite a specific safety plan.
“We evacuated the building, we checked out the four employees, and we contacted the health department,” said McKay, who stood outside the post office in turn-out gear with fellow fire officers before the health department arrived.
McKay said this incidence is not the first time the fire district has responded to a concern of an unidentified substance at Incline’s post office.
“Every couple of years, (it happens),” he said. “Something looks funny or smells funny.”
Haz-mat specialist Donald said he has gone on hundreds of calls regarding suspicious substances. In his 13 years with Washoe County, none of those calls have yet resulted in the identification of a substance that poses a public health hazard, he said.
“We’ve tested everything from dust to paper shavings to laundry soap,” Donald said.
Information officer for the Nevada Sierra District Post Offices Roger Wagner said postal employees are trained to alert authorities in cases of a suspicious package.
“The most important thing is not to move it. They are supposed to just isolate it, put a cover on top of it – such as a tub or plastic bag,” Wagner said. “Safety is, of course, always our first issue.”