EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 7, 2013

Authorities rush to office where mystery powder found

Tests show woman left baking soda in Social Security building yesterday

By Mike LaBella

---- — HAVERHILL — In these days of heightened security at government buildings, even baking soda can cause a stir.

Members of Homeland Security, along with the FBI and local police and firefighters, raced to the Social Security office on Main Street yesterday, after a woman spilled a powdery substance onto the counter and then left the building.

Police were dispatched to the office at 367 Main St. at noon, but by the time they arrived the woman was gone from the area.

Police spokesman Lt. Robert Pistone said the woman, who is believed to be in her 50s, went to the office to conduct business and, as she was putting her identification back into an envelope, a white powdery substance spilled out onto the counter.

Pistone said the woman tried to wipe the powder back into the envelope using her hands.

“An employee asked the woman what the powder was, and she did not answer,” Pistone said. “The woman then walked out.”

He said a security guard evacuated the building and notified police, fire and Homeland Security.

Pistone said the woman did not make any threats and that it appeared she did not deliberately spill the powder. He said a regional HazMat team tested the powder and by 3:30 p.m. determined it was baking soda. Investigators feared it might have been a poisonous powder, such as anthrax.

Pistone said the Social Security office normally closes at 3 p.m. and that it is expected to be open tomorrow.

Pistone the incident is under investigation by Haverhill police, who are looking to locate the woman and question her. He said there was no video surveillance that police are aware of.

“I don’t think this is anything the FBI will be looking into at this point,” he said.