DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

Powdery, Alarming Letter Spurs Quarantine

An officer in protective gear brings a bag of papers from the VA building to a decontamination station set up in the middle of Vermont Avenue.
An officer in protective gear brings a bag of papers from the VA building to a decontamination station set up in the middle of Vermont Avenue. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
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By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 26, 2008

A suspicious letter that led to the quarantine of 24 people yesterday at the Department of Veterans Affairs did not pose a danger, authorities said.

D.C. police and fire crews raced to the government building, at 810 Vermont Ave. NW, after a threatening letter was opened about 11:30 a.m. in a basement mailroom. The headquarters is about a block from the White House. Officials declared the area safe about 1 p.m.

The letter contained a "written threat" and "a fair amount of a powdery substance," triggering the concerns, Assistant D.C. Fire Chief Lawrence Schultz said.

The 24 workers, all from the mailroom, were isolated from the rest of the building's employees while authorities tested the letter for traces of anthrax spores. A decontamination tent was set up, an entrance to the McPherson Square Metro station was closed and traffic was detoured in the immediate area.

Within 90 minutes, tests showed that the letter did not contain any biological agents or danger.

Schultz said authorities acted quickly because "there is no room for error." No one showed any signs of illness, and no injuries were reported.

At the same time yesterday, the city's hazmat units were also sent to an office building at 44 H St. NW, near Union Station, for a suspicious package, which also turned out to be harmless, said Alan Etter, spokesman for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company