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Mystery powder sets off courthouse lockdown

January 14, 2012

BLACKFOOT — An envelope containing a tax payment and a white crystalline substance set off a four-hour lockdown Friday afternoon at the Bingham County Courthouse.
The substance was discovered sometime mid-morning Friday, prompting the lockdown at noon. The Region Six Hazardous Materials Response Team was called in to assist with handling and testing the substance.
The substance, which had a consistency similar to laundry detergent, remains unidentified. Preliminary testing completed at the courthouse found no serious biological or chemical threat from the substance, which will be sent to the state laboratory in Boise for additional testing, Bingham County Sheriff Dave Johnson said.
The envelope was mailed to the Treasurer's Office with a tax payment. Detectives spoke to the woman who sent the envelope and determined that the powder was likely sent by accident, Johnson said.
"We don't feel like there's any threat," Johnson said.
There were an estimated 300 people inside the courthouse at the time of the lockdown including about a dozen citizens and the jail population. The courthouse houses the Sheriff's Office, Blackfoot Police Department, several county offices and the county jail. The lockdown was lifted at 4 p.m.
While the substance is likely non-hazardous, Johnson said it was a learning experience for the various departments involved.
"This doesn't happen every day," Johnson said. "It's something we try to prepare for. There are some things we need to look at."
He said the Bingham County commissioners and officials from the Sheriff's Office and Fire Department will meet to review the incident and discuss ways to improve.
"When we have a situation like this we don't want to overreact, but we really don't want to under-react," Blackfoot Fire Capt. Dave Krumenacker said. "When people are involved we are always going to be cautious. People's safety comes first."
Twice in November a white powdery substance was discovered at the Idaho State Capitol. Both times the substance was found to be harmless.
In June of 2010 several federal government buildings throughout the Northwest received similar envelopes, also containing a harmless substance.
The Bingham County Courthouse will be closed Monday in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

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