Petri Dishes Found in Bank Deposit Box Across From FBI

By James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Someone slid a few petri dishes into the overnight deposit box at the Wachovia bank across the street from FBI headquarters, causing a false alarm and three hours of street closures Tuesday on Pennsylvania Avenue in the District.

A bank employee called police after a worker processing the morning's take discovered the empty but sealed plastic dishes, according to District Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department spokesman Pete Piringer.

The workers were quarantined, and a hazardous materials team entered the branch. The team conducted several field tests, Piringer said, which all came out negative for any biological or chemical contaminant.

The employees at the bank were told to wash their hands and given the opportunity to change into clothing provided by the fire department, Piringer said. No one who had been in the bank was reporting symptoms of biological contamination, he added.

Outside, FBI agents and District police blocked off Pennsylvania Avenue from Seventh to Ninth streets. Lindsay Godwin, an FBI spokeswoman, said the bureau's National Capital Response Squad routinely assists D.C. police and fire when suspicious packages are found. This one just happened to be across the street from the J. Edgar Hoover Building.

The petri dishes were taken to a lab in Baltimore for further testing.

"They'll continue the investigation if pertinent," Godwin said of the FBI. "We would always try to find out any information we could to help us determine who placed these disks in the overnight box."

In a town where suspicious packages often draw a police response, another one found outside the Foggy Bottom Metro station closed streets and caused trains to bypass that station -- just as Pennsylvania Avenue was reopening. That, too, turned out to be a false alarm.

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