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Suspicious mail mostly empty; hazardous substance in one

Hazmat investigation is ongoing at the Grant County Correctional Facility in Canyon City.

East Oregonian

Published on July 27, 2015 3:38PM

Last changed on July 27, 2015 9:56PM

Staff photo by E.J. Harris
Hermiston firefighters in hazmat suits carry what was reported as a suspicious letter from a car at the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office on Monday in Pendleton.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris Hermiston firefighters in hazmat suits carry what was reported as a suspicious letter from a car at the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office on Monday in Pendleton.

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A member of the hazardous materials crew cordons off the area near the Grant County Correctional Facility after Sheriff Glenn Palmer opened an envelope with a white substance and had a physical reaction.

EO Media Group photo

A member of the hazardous materials crew cordons off the area near the Grant County Correctional Facility after Sheriff Glenn Palmer opened an envelope with a white substance and had a physical reaction.

Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer

Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer

Staff photo by E.J. Harris
A pair of Hermiston firefighters get help donning hazmat suits while responding to a suspicious letter at the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office on Monday in Pendleton.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris A pair of Hermiston firefighters get help donning hazmat suits while responding to a suspicious letter at the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office on Monday in Pendleton.

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One sheriff was taken to the hospital and others were on high alert Monday after government buildings around the state received suspicious envelopes that in at least one case contained hazardous materials.

After investigation of the envelope that arrived in Pendleton, the Hermiston hazmat crew determined there was no dangerous substance inside.

Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer was taken to the hospital a little after noon after opening an envelope addressed to him at the Canyon City sheriff’s office. The envelope contained a white substance and seconds later Palmer developed a physical reaction, including a rash on his arms, according to a county official at the scene.

Umatilla, Jackson, Sherman, Wasco and Baker also reported suspicious envelopes arriving at their offices, but no other reactions have been reported.

Palmer and two other people were taken to Blue Mountain Hospital in John Day for treatment and/or observation, according to a report from the Oregon Emergency Response System.

In the meantime, the correctional facility next door to the Grant County Courthouse was cordoned off while hazardous material personnel worked to decontaminate the area and any others that may have come into contact with the substance.

The jail shares a centralized air conditioning system and the OERS report states as many as 12 inmates and additional staff could be affected. Oregon State Police and Grant County Sheriff’s Office continue an investigation.

In Umatilla County, Sheriff Terry Rowan said a civil deputy on routine duties retrieved a letter addressed for Rowan from the Umatilla County Courthouse in Pendleton. The legal-sized letter had similar markings as the one found in Grant County, so the mail remained sealed and in a civil deputy’s vehicle parked at the sheriff’s office. The letter showed up about the same time the Grant County letter made an appearance.

The county’s hazardous materials team, based in Hermiston, set up on a lawn near the justice center. Hazmat team members suited up in Tyvek or Nomex. After diagnostic equipment failed to work, hazmat tech Matt Hodge donned breathing apparatus and stepped inside the semi-sized trailer to examine the envelope manually.

“He’ll make a small slit and start checking,” said Hermiston Fire Chief Scott Stanton, who served as safety officer for the incident.

Stanton said the team takes it slow.

“There’s no need to rush,” he said. “This is much more methodical than firefighting.”

The team responds to 10 or 12 hazmat calls a year, Stanton said. Envelopes in Heppner, Fossil and Condon were determined to be empty.

Oregon State Police Lt. Mike Turner said multiple agencies are participating in the investigation, including the FBI.







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