BAILEYVILLE, Maine — The local post office and four adjacent businesses in a strip mall were evacuated and shut down Friday morning after a postal customer opened an envelope containing suspicious white powder, according to police.
Initial testing of the powder indicated that it is not hazardous but further testing has to be done to confirm that the substance is not harmful, an FBI spokesman said Friday evening.
The incident is the latest in a string of similar scares recently at schools throughout New England and some other states.
Katherine Gulotta, spokeswoman at the FBI’s regional office in Boston, said Friday afternoon there have been nine letters or packages mailed to schools in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island since March 6. A letter containing suspicious white powder was mailed this week to Fort Kent Elementary School in Aroostook County.
Gulotta said all the other suspicious envelopes or packages have been tested and have been determined not to contain any hazardous substances.
Similar suspicious letters or packages also have been mailed this week to schools in Alaska, Texas, Washington D.C. and to at least three in Connecticut, according to The Associated Press. Some of the items, including the envelope mailed to Fort Kent, have arrived with Texas postmarks, according to reports.
The incident in Baileyville happened around 10:30 a.m. Friday, according to Baileyville police Officer Andrew Seavey. He said the incident also resulted in the abrupt evacuation and closure of the Woodland Thriftway supermarket, a branch of Machias Savings Bank, the Cutting Edge hair salon and a consignment shop.
A National Guard hazardous material response team was dispatched to the scene from Waterville, Seavey said.
Donohue said the recipient of the powder was a local elementary school employee but declined to identify her. As a precaution, the woman received medical treatment at Calais Regional Hospital but she was not harmed in any way by the substance.
Police Chief Shawn Donohue said that authorities cleared the scene at 4:30 p.m. but all the affected businesses remained closed for the day. The businesses will reopen Saturday, Donohue said.
Greg Comcowich, spokesman for the FBI’s regional office in Boston, declined to identify the recipient of the powder that was mailed to the post office or to indicate whether there was any connection between the recipient and the local school, as there have been with the other cases.
Comcowich also declined to say where the powder was mailed from.
Tom Rizzo, a United States Postal Service spokesman, said Friday afternoon that he did not have details about the incident but said the FBI would be investigating.
In Fort Kent on Tuesday, a secretary in the principal’s office found suspicious powder in an envelope with a letter that “said some derogatory things about the FBI,” according to AOS 95 Superintendent Tim Doak.
School officials immediately placed the envelope into a sealed zip-close bag, as protocol dictates. They then called police, who arrived a short time later. The school was not evacuated.
FBI agents from Waterville drove up to examine the contents of the envelope.
Fort Kent Police Chief Kenneth Michaud said Friday that testing completed on Thursday in Augusta determined that the powder was flour.
The current grouping of suspicious envelopes or packages being transported in the mail is the latest of several series of mailings in recent decades that have occurred in the United States, some which of have contained the poison anthrax.
BDN writer Jen Lynds contributed to this report.