LAWRENCE — A suspicious package delivered to a federal building off Methuen Street led to an evacuation and an investigation by the regional hazardous materials team and the State Police bomb squad Monday afternoon.
At about 1 p.m., someone in the mail room at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services at 2 Mill St. noticed a package that nobody at that address had requested, Fire Chief Brian Moriarty said.
The package was placed into a negative air-pressure room as employees called for help.
After nearly four hours of investigation to determine if there were any incendiary materials inside, the package was deemed safe.
"They scanned it, X-rayed it, swabbed it, opened it, and found it to be spices in some jars," he said, adding that the package was from Cambodia.
The incident drew interest from at least one news helicopter that hovered overhead as dozens of employees evacuated the building.
The regional hazardous materials team, made up of trained firefighters from throughout Essex and Middlesex counties, took a careful approach to figure out what was in the package, Moriarty said.
Initially, the state police bomb squad also showed up. After taking X-rays, public safety officials quickly realized there were no wires inside.
That's when it became a hazmat operation, and the District 6 Department of Fire Services team took over.
"Hazmat is one of these things where nobody rushes into it," Moriarty said. "They walk, research, think things through. It's a much slower procedure, which is why it took a few hours."
He said they have to suit up and go through an established set of "protocol, procedures and practices" to make sure they handle the material correctly, whatever it may be.
"Everybody says, 'If you see something, say something,'" he said. "This was a non-hazardous issue and out of an abundance of caution, we were super careful. It turned out to be non-dangerous, non-violent, no threats."
He added: "The best outcome is when nothing happens."
The USCIS is one of three divisions of the Department of Homeland Security, which also includes Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.