Police working to learn origin of envelope filled with baking soda

Police working to learn origin of envelope filled with baking soda
Published: Jul. 8, 2013 at 1:37 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 8, 2013 at 9:10 PM EDT
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The brown building on the left is 40 E. Bay St. (Source: Corey Davis)
The brown building on the left is 40 E. Bay St. (Source: Corey Davis)

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Charleston police are working with the United States Postal Service to try and determine the origin of the envelope filled with baking soda left at the Historic Charleston Foundation on Monday morning.

The discovery prompted a scare near The Battery on Monday; although a short time later Charleston Fire Battalion Chief Randy Carter said the contents inside the envelope were "100% baking soda."

Firefighters, Charleston police, HAZMAT crews, and the Charleston County Bomb Squad were called to the scene at 40 East Bay Street around 8 a.m. after receiving reports of white powder in an envelope, police spokesman Charles Francis said.

Staff members peeked through windows and snapped pictures of the scene in front of their building.

"After they arrived they essentially told us not to leave," said Melissa Nelson, Director of Marketing and Communication for the foundation.

According to Nelson a staff member who usually handles the mail came across the envelope.

Nelson said, "She opened it and there was material in there and a suspicious powder. She immediately saw the powder and called the officials."

According to Nelson the baking soda was in a closed plastic bag inside a priority mail envelope with the foundation listed as the return address. The package was addressed to somewhere in Europe, Nelson added.

Nelson said there were coupons and other promotional type papers inside the envelope. The employees didn't see any written letters.

At least 20 employees were inside the office where the powder was found. Those employees remained inside for four hours until crews were able to confirm the substance was harmless.

HAZMAT crews were able to test the substance on-site to find out if it was dangerous.

Randy Carter, Battalion Chief and HAZMAT Commander said, "It ended up being sodium bicarbonate, which is baking soda. We shoot an infrared beam at the product and it comes back and identifies the product," Carter said, "We test it first to make sure it's not an explosive and then we use the identifying equipment to go from there."

Crews took several precautions during the investigation.

Carter said, "We put them in these suits and put them in an air pack. We always do respiratory and skin protection no matter what."

Carter noted the employees did the right thing by not opening the plastic bag the powder came in.

"We ask the public if they think it's suspicious not to open it and if they open it that's when we have the contaminate problems because some of the stuff could be airborne," said Carter.

Traffic was closed from Water Street to 50 East Bay Street while authorities were on scene.

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