Investigators are still trying to identify a suspicious white powder found in downtown West Palm Beach that sent three people to the hospital. Someone discovered the powder around nine o’clock Tuesday morning at the State Attorney’s Office at 401 North Dixie Highway. The powder was inside an envelope in the first floor mailroom.
Hazmat crews and first responders from West Palm Beach Fire Rescue, Palm Beach County Fire Rescue, the West Palm Beach Police Department and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office worked to seal off the mailroom and evacuate the second floor that was connected to the mailroom by an air duct.
A city of West Palm Beach spokesman said three people -- two women and one man -- were exposed to the powder and complained of headaches. The man was taken to the hospital first. The two women had nausea and vomiting before paramedics took them to the hospital.
"We assume it's the worst until it's proven that it's not,” explained Dr. George Gurdock, the medical director of the emergency department at the Good Samaritan Medical Center. “With the threat of bioterrorism, it's important to treat these seriously."
A firefighter was also treated after experiencing an elevated heart rate. Dr. Gurdock said all were expected to recover.
Firefighters turned the substance over to the FBI lab in Miami after their own test results came back inconclusive. At this point, they said they're not ruling anything out.
"The test turns a certain color based on enzymes and proteins," said West Palm Beach Emergency Manager Allan Ortman. “The colors didn’t change the way they would normally do so there’s a little bit of concern. They’re going to add tests they can’t do in the field.”
Testing at the FBI's lab could take another two days. While employees were allowed back in the building several hours later, the mailroom will be sealed until the FBI determines what the substance is.
State Attorney Michael McAuliffe issued the following statement regarding the incident:
This morning fire rescue and law enforcement personnel responded to the State Attorney’s Office to address a suspicious substance and communication directed to me. There is an active, open investigation into the matter; as a result, no further comment will be forthcoming at this time. I, however, want to thank WPB Fire Rescue, Palm Beach County Fire Rescue, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement authorities for their responsiveness, professionalism and their focus on the safety of state attorney employees. Of course, the work of the State Attorney’s Office will continue without delay or interruption.
NewsChannel 5's Ashleigh Walters and Liz Flynn contributed to this report.
Copyright 2011 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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