White powder found at courthouses


Published: Friday, January 12, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 11, 2007 at 11:11 p.m.

WEST PALM BEACH — A suspicious white powdery substance was found at two courthouses Thursday and five people were decontaminated.

Authorities were investigating the discovery of a substance at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, a statement from the Broward Sheriff's Office said.

Earlier Thursday, a white substance discovered on the outside of two envelopes at the Palm Beach County Courthouse tested positive for tellurium, but it did not pose a threat, a sheriff's spokeswoman said. Five people there were decontaminated.

At the Broward courthouse, three employees in the mail room were exposed to the unknown substance, but it was unclear whether they or any other employees were sickened, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported. No other details were immediately available, and it was not clear if the incidents were related.

Tellurium is listed as a hazardous chemical that can cause liver damage and affect a person's central nervous system, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A key symptom of ingestion is garlic-like breath.

Federal authorities are no longer investigating the matter at the Palm Beach courthouse, but local authorities are looking into where the powder came from, Palm Beach County Sheriff's spokeswoman Teri Barbera said.

Authorities were also going through additional mail to determine if there was more of the substance.

The substance was not considered a threat because the amount found was not significant enough for it be dangerous, Barbera said.

The five courthouse employees, who were not immediately identified, had to strip off their clothes and take showers in a decontamination tent set up outside, Barbera said.

The letters were carried by a mail clerk into the law library and two judges' chambers on the building's ninth floor around 11:30 a.m. She said those areas were sealed off and evacuated, but business went on elsewhere in the courthouse, including several trials. No one was being allowed to enter the courthouse.

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