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Envelope's Fumes Force Evacuation

Orange County

Safety: 200 people are told to leave a Fountain Valley office when a manila package gives off a sickening odor. Two are taken to hospitals.

May 25, 2002|TINA BORGATTA and JACK LEONARD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Two people were hospitalized and 200 more evacuated Friday when a mysterious envelope released noxious fumes at the state Department of Rehabilitation office in Fountain Valley, authorities said.

Fire officials said they do not think the package was sent to injure someone but believe a container inside the manila envelope may have broken.

The package, which smelled of acetone or nail-polish remover, was delivered in a crate with other mail by a U.S. Postal Service carrier about 1 p.m., said Joe Cucinotti, a Fountain Valley Fire Department spokesman.

A few minutes after opening the envelope, a 44-year-old office worker began complaining of nausea and was sent home. A supervisor called fire officials, who sent two hazardous-materials teams to the building in the 10500 block of Talbert Avenue.

When paramedics arrived, the postal carrier complained of tightness in his chest and difficulty breathing. The carrier, 32, was taken to Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center, where he was treated and released, fire officials said.

Paramedics visited the office worker at her home and took her to Huntington Beach Hospital after learning she also was feeling ill.

"She had a headache and burning eyes, and she'd begun vomiting," Cucinotti said.

Six other office workers were examined but none complained of problems, he said.

Authorities evacuated the building, which also houses the University of Phoenix.

Most employees went home, but a few, determined to retrieve their belongings, waited several hours until the building was reopened.

Authorities said tests showed the material in the envelope was some type of acrylic resin, but they were unable to identify it. Fire officials said the U.S. Postal Service will conduct more tests.

Also Friday afternoon, about a dozen people were evacuated from the Boeing Co. plant in Seal Beach after an employee received a package with a liquid leaking from it.

As of late Friday, hazardous materials crews had not determined what the liquid was, a company spokeswoman said.

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