An unknown substance was delivered to the King County Elections building in Renton on Wednesday, Nov. 8, resulting in the evacuation of the building and arrival of hazmat crews.
Additional deliveries of unknown substances to the Pierce County, Skagit County, and Spokane County elections buildings found Wednesday resulted in evacuations also, according to a news release from the Washington Secretary of State.
County’s elections workers evacuated the offices and elections leaders have taken precautions to keep employees and office visitors safe, according to the news release.
The incident occurred as workers processed ballots from the Nov. 7 general election, according to the news release. Local, state, and federal authorities are investigating the incidents.
Fire crews and hazmat crews arrived on the scene at the King County Elections building on 919 Southwest Grady Way after receiving reports of an unknown substance delivered to the location, according to the Renton Regional Fire Authority. Hazmat crews entered the building.
The mail containing a “white powder” arrived in the building’s first floor mailroom, in the building’s administrative suite, according to a news release from the King County Elections media advisory team. All ballots remained secured on the ballot processing floor, monitored via security cameras and livestreamed webcams viewable on the King County Elections website.
According to the Renton Police Department, the evacuation of the building served as a precaution.
According to the Renton Regional Fire Authority, the substance poses no threat to the public as of 12:30 p.m. Crews have “mitigated” the substance.
A presumptive test of the substance showed positive results for traces of fentanyl of an unknown percentage makeup. According to the Renton Police Department, the department will coordinate investigation efforts with the FBI.
As of 1:30 p.m., the department reported that the building “should re-open within the hour” following a decontamination process.
Investigation continues, with further testing needed to confirm the makeup of the substance, according to the department.
According to an email from Sara Morris, public information officer for the Renton Regional Fire Authority, fire crews dispatched at approximately 10:54 a.m. for an automatic fire alarm.
An employee approached crews onscene that stated they discovered a white powder in a parcel, provoking the fire department to dispatch hazmat crews, according to Morris’s email.
The envelope was immediately isolated and 911 was called, according to the King County Elections news release.
Employees evacuated upon arrival of fire crews as a result of the fire alarm. Crews contacted the reported substance and removed the threat from the building, collecting the substance.
The incident resulted in three hours of delays for elections staff, with staff returning to work and process ballots for the day following the clearing and cleaning of the mailroom via the fire department’s hazmat unit.
“At this time, the incident has been turned … over to law enforcement to conduct an investigation and determine what the substance was exactly,” Morris stated in her email.
In Pierce County the Tacoma Fire Department arrived at the scene of the 2500 block of South 35th Street on the morning of Oct. 8 to investigate a potential hazardous substance, according to the department. Hazmat crews mitigated the situation, with the building safe to occupy as of 11:05 a.m.
Reports of an unknown substance delivered to the Spokane County and Skagit County elections buildings also resulted in evacuations.
Washington State Secretary Steve Hobbs called the incidents “acts of terrorism to threaten our elections,” in the Secretary of State news release.
According to the Secretary of State news release, King County and Okanogan County election officials received envelopes containing unknown substances during the state’s Aug. 1 primary. After turning the envelope and letter received by King County Elections over to the United States Postal Inspection Service, an analysis performed detected trace amounts of fentanyl. Analysis of the Okanogan County envelope found the substance to be unharmful.