Anthrax scare shuts down Australian taxation office

The discovery of a white powder as part of a mail delivery shut down a taxation office in Penrith, Australia, leading to approximately 700 people evacuating from the building.

The powder, which resulted in traffic being blocked on local streets, has yet to be identified and no complications have yet been reported by the workers affected. Building staff were allowed to re-enter the office at around 2 p.m., the Penrith Star reports.

“At this stage we are decontaminating people who were within about five meters of the powder,” Peter Rowlands, an ambulance service commander said, according to the Penrith Star. “About half-a-dozen will be taken to Nepean Hospital for observation.”

A worker discovered the white powder at around 11:40 a.m., which prompted staff to leave the building and emergency services to be called. Everyone who came into contact with the substance was promptly treated.

While there is a chance that the powder is anthrax or another serious bioterror threat, most powder scares end up being harmless in nature.

“We have to treat this as suspicious until it is proven otherwise,” Rowlands said, according to the Penrith Star. “We have a protocol to go through. If it’s a joke, it’s hard to laugh. The stress it’s putting all these people through and the resources it’s tying up.”