Bioterror scare at U.S. embassy in Paris

Employees of the U.S. embassy in Paris were sent to the hospital last week after handling a suspicious envelope that emitted fumes.

An embassy spokesman announced that the affected employees, both French nationals, are doing well. The envelope was sent away for testing to determine exactly what happened. It was addressed to the embassy but had no names written on it, BusinessWeek reports.

“I have no indication it was not sent from France,” Paul Patin, an embassy spokesman, told BusinessWeek.

Early, but unofficial, reports say the central laboratory of the Paris police identified the fumes as being tear gas. The two employees’ eyes and throats were irritated, but they were quickly cleared and then released from the hospital Hotel Dieu in Paris.

"Whatever the smell was, it was not deemed harmful," P.J. Crowley, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department told BusinessWeek. "It's not toxic. As a precaution, the two employees were sent to the hospital and have experienced no ill effects from whatever was detected in these letters."

The embassy continues to function normally, according to Elizabeth Detmeister, the embassy deputy spokesman.

“We are here working,” Detmeister told BusinessWeek. ”The embassy is fully functioning. Ever since the anthrax attack after September 2001, government facilities worldwide have implemented security procedures to prepare for any such incident.”

When the incident occurred, the Paris police anti-terrorism unit was not called in, an unnamed police official told BusinessWeek, adding that the incident may not have been serious enough to warrant police involvement, or the embassy may have declined because they wanted it to handle it internally.

Two months ago, the police were called in to investigate a similar incident when a suspicious letter was addressed to the U.S. ambassador.