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Poof!’ Powder scare vanishes

Eric Beiersdorfer / Lantern photographer

A report of a white substance found inside the Ohio State Physics Research Building was a false alarm, Columbus Division of Fire officials said shortly after noon Monday.

The Columbus Fire Hazardous Materials Response Unit, Columbus Fire Department trucks and OSU Campus Environmental Health and Safety response team were on the scene shortly before noon to investigate.

“Basically it just was a concern,” hazmat captain Bill Brobst told The Lantern. “It’s a non-issue.”

A professor in the building received a letter containing a suspicious substance, said Deputy Chief Richard Morman of OSU police.

“The man said he received a letter, opened it and saw a ‘poof,'” Morman told The Lantern. “He described it as the kind of poof one may see when they take a tissue out of a box.”

Morman would not disclose the professor’s name but said he was a researcher.

The professor opened the letter at about 9:05 a.m. but did not call the police until 10:55 a.m. By that time, there was nothing left for police to analyze.

Morman said police “couldn’t find traces of powder,” but they collected the letter and envelope for testing.

Officials did not evacuate the building, but they closed and decontaminated the professor’s office. A crowd of fire officials were gathered in and around a second-floor office shortly before 1 p.m.

The professor did not display signs of respiratory problems, rashes or physical distress, Morman said.

Battalion Chief David Whiting of the Columbus Fire Department told The Lantern that by the time his department arrived, “the higher-ups determined that it wasn’t a threat.”

Brobst said officials tracked the letter and, based on who mailed it and what it said, determined the letter was not threatening or suspicious.

“We look at what’s in the message and the sender,” Whiting said. “The message is key.”

Morman said with an increased awareness of possible terrorism, the number of reports of suspicious powder increases.

Officials would not comment on the letter’s contents or the sender because the investigation is ongoing.

Andrea Chaffin contributed to this story.

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