Envelope irritant dropped off in Beloit still unknown

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staff, Gazette
Thursday, April 18, 2013

— A man who dropped off a payment for a bill at a Beloit clinic Wednesday morning told police he had no explanation for a powdery substance that caused dozens of people to be quarantined and 15 to be evaluated at area hospitals.

The man hand-delivered an envelope containing powder to the Beloit Area Community Health Center, 72 Eclipse Blvd. When the woman at the front desk used a letter opener to open the envelope, a cloud of light powder emerged, Beloit police Capt. Vince Sciame said.

Employees called 911 after three people in the billing department who handled the envelope experienced burning and discomfort in their eyes and noses.

Initial test results indicate the powder was not a biological or chemical substance, Sciame said.

"Basically, that tells us that we don't know what it is," he said.

A full set of tests in a lab will have to be conducted, likely today in Madison, he said.

Police talked to the man who delivered the envelope, and he "gave no indication" of malicious intent. The man had no explanation for the powder, he said.

The man is not in custody, and Sciame said he couldn't say whether any charges would be filed because results haven't shown what the substance is yet.

The clinic should be open as normal today.

Fifteen people were taken to Beloit Memorial Hospital and Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center, mostly for precautionary reasons. The first three exposed were the only ones with symptoms, Sciame said. Others had existing health conditions that could have caused them to be more susceptible, he said. All have since been released, Sciame said.

Fifty-six people had been under quarantine in the building but were released and told to contact their doctors if they have symptoms in the next 24 hours, Sciame said.

The state's 54th Civil Support Team tested the substance in its mobile crime lab, said Lt. Joe Trovato of the Wisconsin National Guard. The team is part of the state National Guard, responding to emergencies or terrorist events that involve weapons of mass destruction, toxic industrial chemicals and natural disasters, Trovato said.

The rest of the Eclipse Center was not at risk and was fully functioning, said Beth Jacobsen, assistant to the city manager of Beloit.

Members assisting at the scene included the Beloit Police Department, Beloit Fire Department, Beloit Public Works, Janesville Fire Department, Rock County Emergency Management and the FBI.

Linda Stein, a dental receptionist at the clinic, emerged from the clinic about 4 p.m. She said the people inside had been told about 40 minutes earlier that they could go. She said most of the 70 people who had been held there were employees.

She said she didn't see the envelope or know anyone who did.

"It's better to be safe than sorry," Stein said.

Last updated: 10:24 am Tuesday, July 2, 2013

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