Investigators can’t identify mystery powder

Posted May 16, 2011, at 2:29 p.m.
Last modified May 16, 2011, at 6:12 p.m.

ELLSWORTH — Investigators have been unable to identify the mysterious white powder discovered last week in an envelope at a local banking center, according to an Ellsworth fire official.

Ellsworth’s Deputy Fire Chief Richard Tupper said he received word from the Maine crime lab in Augusta that tests conducted there were unable to determine what the substance was. Tupper had said there was only a small sample of the white powder provided to the lab last week.

“Apparently, there was not enough to identify what it was,” Tupper said Monday. “But there was enough to determine that it was not hazardous.”

The lab on Friday determined that the powder contained no hazardous materials. That test confirmed the results of field tests conducted at the scene by the Maine National Guard Civil Support Team out of Waterville. The CST conducted three tests in all on samples of the powder. The team tested a sample inside the building and conducted two more tests in a CST mobile lab.

Tupper said Monday there would not be any additional tests conducted.

“I guess that’s it,” he said.

An employee at the Bar Harbor Bank and Trust operations center in Ellsworth opened an envelope last Thursday and discovered a white powder inside. After she indicated she was feeling a burning sensation in her hand, the employee went to a local hospital to get checked and the rest of the estimated 30 employees were evacuated from the building. The evacuees were kept inside a police barrier for about six hours while emergency response teams from around the state converged on the area.

After tests determined that the substance was not hazardous, the woman employee was released from the hospital, having suffered no ill effects and the rest of the workers were allowed to leave.

Ellsworth police initially investigated the incident and retrieved the envelope, which did contain a return address. People at that address were contacted last Thursday, but officials have not identified them. On Monday, Lt. Harold Page of the Ellsworth Police Department said the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Bangor has taken over the case. The FBI could not be reached for comment late Monday afternoon.

Meanwhile, agencies involved in the incident are adding up the costs involved in their response. Many of the agencies had personnel at the scene throughout the six-hour ordeal. As yet, there has been no accounting of how much the incident cost or who will pay for it.

“Obviously, when you have that many resources responding, someone has to pay for it,” Ralph Pinkham, director of the Hancock County Emergency Management Agency, said Monday. “It has yet to be determined who will pay for this. Different situations require different people to pay for it.”

Pinkham said the county EMA probably will be the agency responsible for collecting bills from the agencies that worked at the scene of the incident.

“We’ll collect all the bills,” Pinkham said. “Then we’ll sit down with Maine Emergency Management and the DEP and figure out who pays for what.”

At this point, he said, he has no estimates on what the total cost will be.

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