Letter With White Powder Found in ‘NYT’ Mailroom, But It’s a Hoax

By: E&P Staff

A mysterious white powder sent to The New York Times today was found by a mailroom employee and sparked an evacuation of the building’s eighth floor, while police determined if the substance is dangerous.

One employee, a 54-year-old from Brooklyn, was sent to a hospital for examination, but he appeared unharmed. The envelope also included an editorial with an “X” through it. A Times spokeswoman, Catherine Mathis, told E&P that the editorial was the June 28, 2006 defense of the newspaper deciding to run its controversial “Swift” banking records surveillance story.

Later in the afternoon, the Times announced: “New York City authorities have confirmed that the powdery substance found in a business envelope addressed to The New York Times and opened by a mailroom worker this afternoon has been field tested and determined to be nonthreatening and nonhazardous.” The substance is now believed to be most likely cornstarch.

Mathis said an employee in the paper’s postal service department discovered the powder after opening an envelope at about 12:30 p.m. She said it was addressed only to the Times, with no specific person named as a recipient. The envelope had no return address or name, but had been postmarked from Philadelphia.

“There was a powder white substance that fell out, but it did not fall on him,” she said of the employee who opened the envelope. “He followed our procedure and put it in envelope and we contacted police. They will do testing to determine if it is a dangerous substance.” She said no other parts of the newspaper were evacuated.

It was considered a particular threat because of the X-ed editorial. A Times account related that elite police officers “donned biohazard suits, quarantined the employee essentially by having him wait in a bathroom as they turned off the air conditioning system to avoid re-circulating air in the event some kind of dangerous substance had been unleashed. The officers wanted to separate the employee in the bathroom to await decontamination.”

A Times article about the incident, posted about 5:15 p.m., announcing the all-clear, closed with a classic paragraph: “Separately, someone had called the police earlier in the day to report concerns about a white substance found in a letter delivered to an address in the midtown Manhattan area [a police spokesman] said. But that substance turned out to be cocaine, he said.”

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