Mail containing white powder creates hazmat situation at federal courthouse
A powdery substance found in a mailroom at the Wilkie D. Ferguson U.S. Courthouse Friday afternoon was deemed not hazardous, after a hazmat call required several emergency responders to investigate the scene, authorities said.
Miami Fire Rescue received a call around 12:30 p.m. reporting that a dry powdery material had been found in a package at 400 Miami Avenue, and that six clerk employees in the mailroom had been exposed, Fire Rescue spokesman Capt. Ignatius Carroll said. The employees were then isolated until units could respond.
A dozen fire units, including a hazmat team, were sent to the courthouse to investigate. Because the mailroom was designed to be physically isolated from the wider courthouse building and had a separate air-conditioning system, it was determined that a full evacuation of the courthouse was not needed, U.S. Marshal Amos Rojas, Jr. said.
“The federal courthouse has some very stringent protocols to ensure that if it were a hazardous material... it would be contained just within the mailroom,” Rojas said.
After officials arrived, the six affected people were evacuated from the building and given decontamination showers, Carroll said. None of the employees reported any concerning symptoms as a result of exposure to the substance, he added.
After testing the substance found, hazmat investigators determined that the substance was not dangerous, Carroll added. But authorities will conduct a criminal investigation into the package, including the sender, its intended recipient and the identity of the substance that was mailed, Rojas said.
“The mere fact that it was mailed to the federal courthouse – we take that as a threat,” said U.S. Postal Service spokesman Ivan Ramirez. The Postal Service, which delivered the package, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation will jointly lead the investigation, he added.
Even if the package was intended as a hoax, Ramirez added, the consequences were very real.
“If someone decided, ‘let’s send baby powder, haha, it’s a joke,’ it’s not a joke,” he said. “You will face serious federal fines and criminal charges... Just look at the evidence for yourselves, the amount of manpower that it took to come to that determination.”
Rojas added that the federal government plans to press charges when law enforcement officers identify who mailed the package.
“We probably wasted thousands of dollars in this response, so we’re going to make sure the individual or individuals that were responsible for it get a chance to appear in federal court, and hopefully in this particular courthouse to answer for that charge,” he said.