, Salem, MA

April 5, 2013

White powder causes scare at animal shelter

By Neil H. Dempsey
Staff Writer

---- — MARBLEHEAD — The city’s animal control officer got a scare Wednesday afternoon when she opened an unmarked envelope and a mysterious white powder dumped out on her.

Police and emergency personnel were called to the Village Street animal shelter around 1 p.m. after Officer Betsy Tufts reported the incident, which occurred when she opened an envelope she found in a mailbox, according to the incident log.

“There was no writing on the envelope and no letter inside,” police wrote. “Part of the envelope was taped shut, and she opened the part that had not been taped.”

Tufts told police the substance went airborne when she opened it and that she was concerned for the well-being of the animals. A district hazardous materials team was called to the scene while police tried to determine which volunteers had worked the night before.

Police alerted the nearby Village School and Veterans Middle School about the incident.

A volunteer called in and said the substance could have been “diatomaceous earth,” which is sometimes used at the shelter. A hazardous materials specialist told police the substance would be tested on-site.

Police eventually determined that the powder was lysine — a harmless amino acid sometimes used in animal feed — that a woman had forgotten to take home from the shelter. It was unclear what the substance was being used for. The hazardous materials team tested it after it was identified and determined that it was safe.

Police said a parent had gotten worried about a possible gas leak after receiving an email about the incident, but there was no gas leak, and police determined that somebody at Veterans Middle School had sent out an alert “that seems to have panicked the parents.”