DC Fire/EMS' Hazardous Materials Response Team was dispatched to a situation that developed this afternoon in the mail room of the Commerce Department Building, 14th and Constitution Ave., NW. Up to 11 people complained of illness when a woman opened a package there at about 3 pm. DC Fire/EMS transported two females to the George Washington University Medical Center. Both exhibited similar symptoms, but did not appear to have life-threatening injuries.
Paramedic Engine 16 responded to a medical call at that location at 3:45 pm. A 42-year-old woman claimed respiratory distress after opening a box of copy paper that was wrapped in plastic shrink-wrap. Because the source of the woman's illness could not be immediately determined, the FBI's Terrorism Task Force was contacted and a HAZMAT investigation began.
After a three-hour investigation, it was determined that there were no chemical or biological agents present. The source of the irritant was narrowed to a potential reaction of the plastic products, which were exposed to the irradiation process. All mail deliveries to federal buildings are subjected to irradiation to neutralize biological agents, such as anthrax. When plastics are exposed to this process, a certain quantity of hydrocarbons is produced, which can be irritating to a person's respiratory system. For further information on health effects, please contact the DC Department of Health, (202) 442-9195.