County Fire and Hazardous Materials personnel and Public Health officials responded to a potential anthrax scare in Santa Maria and Orcutt on Monday afternoon. It was later discovered no danger was present.
At 3 p.m. two Santa Barbara Country Sheriff’s detectives entered a 7-11 convenience store on Bradley Road in Orcutt, where one of the officers purchased a Maxim magazine. When the officer returned to his vehicle and opened the magazine, a “grayish-white powder” fell onto his lap and clothes, and a small quantity remained stuck in the pages, according to Sheriff’s Dept. Lt. Mike Burridge.
“Both detectives, who were now seated in the vehicle, decided that the powder might be of a suspicious nature,” he said. “The detectives were concerned that additional people may be exposed to the unknown substance so they drove to the Sheriff’s station in Santa Maria and parked in a remote corner of a secure parking lot.”
In transit, the officers used cell phones to call Sheriff’s deputies to secure the 7-11 and called the station in Santa Maria to ask for assistance in the parking lot. Fire/HazMat and county Public Health officials responded to station, where Public Health officials treated the officers, Burridge said.
The Fire/HazMat crew then proceeded to the 7-11 store. With the assistance of the local FBI office, samples of the suspect material were taken to a lab in San Luis Obispo for analysis.
On Monday night, law enforcement officers learned from the magazine’s publicist that a corn starch-based powder is used in the manufacture, drying and shipping process to prevent pages from sticking together.
Lab reports confirmed that the material was, in fact, a harmless corn starch-based powder. Both officers returned home in good health.