Clean-up...a shopper is washed down by an emergency worker after Woolgoolga Plaza was evacuated yesterday. PHOTO: TREVOR VEALE
Clean-up...a shopper is washed down by an emergency worker after Woolgoolga Plaza was evacuated yesterday. PHOTO: TREVOR VEALE

Lockdown after powder in post office mail

By LUKE KEIOSKIE

WOOLGOOLGA Post Office was closed for four hours yesterday after a suspicious white powder was found in a pile of mail.

Emergency services cordoned off part of Woolgoolga Plaza with 'hot zone' tape, as firefighters in Hazmat spillage suits hosed the hands and feet of customers and staff who had been locked into the Post Office for close to an hour.

Woolgoolga Fire Station acting station commander, Darrin Atkins, said 12 customers and three staff were held in the Post Office as procedure for a 'worst case scenario'.

"Our priority was the decontamination of the customers and staff," Mr Atkins said.

Firefighters in spillage suits and breathing apparatus entered the post office and retrieved a package containing the suspicious substance.

"The substance was put through the computer in the Hazmat van and was found to be sodium acetate," Mr Atkins said.

"It was from a package containing sample heat packs for the treatment of athletic injuries, which broke open and released the chemical."

He said some workers from the post office got the sodium acetate on their hands and experienced a tingling, but this was not toxic as the chemical reacts to produce heat.

One customer called the incident 'scary' while others were more blas?.

"They've put some sort of solution on us, for contamination or something, and told me to go home and have a shower," Jim Egan said.

Nearby realtor Nicole Cardow Real Estate was also shut down, amid fears the suspicious substance would travel through the air conditioning ducts the two businesses share.

"I've been here 18 years and I've never seen anything like this," salesman Mark Mihai said.

Post office manager Trish Baker said it couldn't have happened on a worse day.

"Friday's one of our busiest, but we have to go through the procedure, it's better to be safe than sorry," Ms Baker said.



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