ST. PETERSBURG TIMES--Hernando Edition

Hospital enters cleaning mode after powder scare
A man brings in a mysterious white powder he says gave him a rash. Decontaminations follow.

By ROBERT KING, Times Staff Writer
St. Petersburg Times
published March 23, 2003

BROOKSVILLE -- The emergency admissions desk at Brooksville Regional Hospital was briefly closed Saturday and five people were decontaminated after a man came in carrying five vials of an unknown white powder.

By afternoon, police said they suspected the substance is harmless.

But authorities took no chances Saturday morning. Shortly after the man arrived with the powder he feared had caused a rash on his head, they turned the area outside the emergency room into a decontamination area, with a plastic children's wading pool to collect water used in the process.

Brooksville fire Capt. Tim Mossgrove donned a white decontamination suit and sprayed antibacterial agents on five people. He had purchased the wading pool for $4 at Wal-Mart moments before because Hernando County's new hazardous materials team isn't yet fully equipped.

The man, whose name Brooksville police did not release, said he found a box containing the vials a few days earlier at a picnic table near Lamar and Broad streets in Brooksville. He said he opened one vial and some powder splashed on him. He said he left the material at the picnic table.

Brooksville police Sgt. Norm Cartwright said the man became worried after the rash developed and thought the powder might have been responsible. He decided to get checked out at the hospital and retrieved the box on his way.

He entered the emergency room about 10 a.m. Saturday, put the box with the vials on the receptionist's desk and explained that he had a rash. Security guard Noel Wells, 63, escorted him outside and hospital staff called police.

Behind a curtain in an area outside the emergency room, the man stripped down and was given a head-to-toe washing as he stood in the wading pool.

The security guard, two police officers and a firefighter also were decontaminated, Mossgrove said.

The vials of white powder, sealed in a can and triple-bagged in red plastic, were to be sent to a state Health Department lab in Tampa for identification.

-- Robert King can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or .