Red chili powder is believed to have been the substance in an envelope opened by a Lake County homeless shelter employee that triggered a hazardous materials call, authorities said Monday.
Jonathan Friedman, a spokesman for the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago, said the FBI is investigating the case, which resulted in the employee being treated for an irritation.
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Hazardous materials crews from across the county were summoned about noon to Building 5 at the Lovell center. Friedman said PADS is headquartered in the building near Green Bay Road and Route 137.
Authorities are more than 90 percent certain that red chili powder was in the envelope, according to Friedman. Experts from nearby Abbott Laboratories in Libertyville Township were brought in to assist in the substance testing.
"The seriousness is the intent of the sender," Friedman said. "That clearly is going to be investigated."
Officials said a fan blew the powder at the employee after the envelope was opened. Friedman said the PADS worker called 911 and received unspecified medical treatment for the reported irritation.
Friedman said authorities have deduced the red powder would have affected homeless shelter employees or visitors only on the first floor of the two-story structure. He said up to three rooms may have been involved and that at least 45 people were in the building.
Those who were inside Building 5 when the envelope was opened underwent a decontamination process Monday afternoon, Friedman said. The hazardous materials crews were equipped with brushes and buckets for the decontamination.
PADS Executive Director Cathy Curran couldn't be immediately reached for comment. The agency has provided services to homeless men, women and children for more than 35 years.
Great Lakes Naval Station personnel and VA clients have had access to the same medical care since the Lovell facility opened in October 2010. Officials have said it serves as a model for other VA-Defense Department medical center combinations.
About 829,400 outpatient visits and nearly 4,500 inpatient admissions were recorded at the Lovell Health Care Center in 2011. The complex includes a 209,945-square-foot ambulatory care facility and has roughly 3,000 full-time employees.