JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (AP) - About 40 people were treated for exposure
to what was believed to be a military-grade riot gas that was
released from a canister near a high school Tuesday afternoon,
authorities said.
Investigators said the gas is available only to larger police
departments and the military. Agents from the FBI were
investigating the incident, according to special agent Jeff Killeen
of the Pittsburgh division.
"There does not appear to be any nexus to any terrorist group,
but our eyes are wide open," Killeen said. "It is really the
tenor of our times that dictates how we respond. Obviously after
Sept. 11, our priority is to prevent and investigate this type of
incident immediately to determine its root."
Police, fire and hospital officials began receiving calls
shortly after 3 p.m. about a large vapor cloud in one of
Johnstown's busiest neighborhoods.
Victims reported respiratory problems, eye irritation and
swelling in their faces, police spokeswoman Robin Melnyk said.
There were no serious injuries or fatalities, hospital officials
said.
Victims ran to a nearby grocery store for shelter and fire crews
first responded there, fire Chief Mike Huss said.
"It was a little chaotic. There were multiple reports of
patients so we set up a triage on site," Huss said. "As far as an
emergency situation, things went pretty smooth. We took all the
precautions we could."
A white canister more than a foot long with red lettering
reading "RIOT GAS CS" was found in a creek about 40 feet from
Bishop McCourt High School, Huss said.
CS is the code name for orthochlorobenzylidene malononitrile,
according to the Federation of American Scientists Web site. The
white powder, typically dispersed in aerosol, rapidly attacks nerve
endings, the cornea, mucous membranes and the skin, according to
the FAS.
Acting Johnstown police Chief Craig Foust told The
Tribune-Democrat of Johnstown that he considered the incident a
type of terrorism because of the number of people it affected.
"There's different types of terrorism, foreign and domestic,"
he said. "Clearly this affected a lot of people and affected our
community very seriously."
Three agents from the Laurel Highlands office of the FBI were on
site Tuesday.
Special Agent Paul Wilson said the bureau is evaluating the
canister and said he has been in contact with national
headquarters.
"We're in contact with people who want to determine what the
motive was," he told The Tribune-Democrat.
Several blocks were evacuated in the area for several hours.
Students and teachers at Bishop McCourt High School that had not
left school were kept inside for about three hours, Huff said.
Traffic was diverted around the area, he said.
Dr. Daniel Wehner, chairman of the emergency department,
Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown, said none of the people that
were treated had to be admitted.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)