Shipping error causes anthrax fears

A shipping error by UPS led to the evacuation of around 500 employees at Christian Book Distributors in Salem, Massachusetts, as state and city officials investigated a mysterious package containing a dense, powdery substance.

The 42 pound package contained what tests later revealed to be titanium dioxide, a compound found in sunscreen and paint. While the substance can be slightly hazardous, local officials said that cleanup can be accomplished with just soap and water, Salem News reports.

An employee at the company opened the box around 10 a.m. and saw two mysterious plastic containers with the unidentified white substance inside. The label did not match the material in the box and UPS confirmed that the package was mistakenly delivered there.

Employees were evacuated and the bomb squad and hazmat teams entered the building. They took X-rays and samples of the substance and determined it was safe, according to Salem News. Approximately two hours and 45 minutes after the evacuation, officials allowed employees back into the building to collect their belongings.

Ray Hendrickson, the company president, made a call to 911 right away, as he had with a similar incident in the past involving a soap-making substance. He then made an announcement to his staff.

“I told them that we’re dealing with an unknown substance, but I’m 99.99 percent sure there is no issue here,” Hendrickson said, according to Salem News. “There were some concerns, but for the most part everyone was calm.”

Package scares in the area have become less common the last few years since the anthrax scares in the years after 2001.

“(In the past) it was every day, sometimes a couple times a shift,” Steve Pasdon, the Peabody fire chief, said, according to Salem News. “There have not been as many lately.”