10 workers hospitalized after opening package in Georgia

10 workers hospitalized after opening package in Georgia

August 12th, 2011 by Associated Press in Local - Breaking News

Police tape and emergency vehicles ring the entrance to the emergency room at Newton Medical Center, which is on lockdown because of the potential hazmat situation in Covington, Ga. Friday, Aug. 12, 2011. Ten people were treated at a hospital Friday after they were exposed to white powder at a plant in Covington in what police are calling an intentional act. Covington Police Capt. Ken Malcom said the incident happened at Pure Talk, a phone manufacturing company on Lochridge Boulevard. (AP Photo/Journal & Constitution, Bob Andres)

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

GREG BLUESTEIN, Associated Press

ATLANTA - Ten employees at an Atlanta-area company were hospitalized Friday after one of them opened a package containing a threatening note and a suspicious white powder that left that worker with a burning sensation and numbness in her hands, authorities said.

The powder was released when an employee of PureTalk, an electronics refurbishing company in the east Atlanta suburb of Covington, opened a package containing two cellphone batteries that appeared fused together, said Covington Police Capt. Ken Malcom. He said the package also included a note stating the powder was intended to harm someone, but he wouldn't elaborate.

"It's not uncommon for public safety to receive calls for suspicious packages, but the vast majority are harmless," he said. "But this is a situation that we're treating as a threat to people's safety and health. There's indication that this was a deliberate act with intentions to hurt somebody and we're treating it very seriously."

State and federal authorities were called to help investigate. The FBI sent a bomb tech unit, a hazmat unit and members of the crisis response squad to the east Atlanta suburb to investigate, said Special Agent Steve Emmett. Initial tests revealed the powder isn't an explosive, but Malcom said more are underway to determine what the substance is.

"Right now we're trying to figure out what we've got here, and then we'll go from there," said Malcom. "We don't know who did this or why they would do it yet. We don't know if it was a prank or what. We just don't have any answers."

The powder was released overnight, and soon a female employee who handled the package began experiencing a burning feeling in the eyes, and numbness and irritation of the hands, said Malcom. Soon, other employees reported similar symptoms. They all decided to leave and drive to Newton Medical Center, where they stayed overnight. The hospital reported the problem about 2:30 a.m. Friday.

Newton Medical Center spokeswoman Linda Moseley said the 10 were being treated at the hospital, but she had no update on their condition. She said the FBI and Department of Homeland Security sent investigators to examine the victims, and they are awaiting results.

Authorities are also trying to track down whoever sent the package, although Malcom said there are no suspects yet.

"We're hoping and we're praying we can resolve this investigation very quickly," he said.