Officials: Type of pepper spray likely source of Taos post office hazmat scene


Updated: 4:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 18:

Steve Dawald, deputy chief at Los Alamos Fire Department, said in an update Monday that a hazmat incident last week at a post office in Taos may have been caused by a type of pepper spray.

"They weren't 100 percent able to determine what the chemical or substance was, but are leaning toward something like a pepper spray," Dawald said in a phone call this week.

Symptoms reported by people impacted by the noxious fumes last week included burning eyes and noses, which overlap with the effects of pepper spray, a self-defense tool that discharges a fluid containing capsaicin, a powerful chili pepper extract.

Dawald said the team spent three to four hours taking samples of the air in and around the post office to test for contaminants, but reached no definitive conclusion.

The post office resumed normal operating hours following the incident.

Updated: 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 14:

Post office employees who returned to work Thursday morning reported a sensation of burning in their eyes and noses several hours after a hazmat team from Los Alamos Fire Department cleaned the area of a still unidentified organic chemical compound.

Taos firefighters and an ambulance responded to the area while law enforcement blocked roadways to respond to the employees.

The scene was again cleared quickly, however, with first responders concluding that, "it's probably just residual from what was going on last night."

Before leaving the area, first responders opened the doors to the post office in an effort to circulate fresh air inside the building, but said they were unable to detect any unusual odors.

As of mid-morning Thursday, authorities had not released any further information about the type of chemical that was found at the post office or how it came to be there.

Update: 8:15 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 14 :

A hazardous waste management team from Los Alamos Fire Department cleared the scene at about 3 a.m.  The team found slight traces of a volatile organic chemical compound in the lobby area of the post office that could not be specifically identified and appeared to have evaporated, according to a press release from the town of Taos. 

The post office was cleared to reopen. "No residue or substances hazardous to human health have been detected," according to town manager Rick Bellis in a statement. 


Update: 10:50 p.m.  Wednesday, Nov. 13
Officials at the scene confirmed two people had gone to Holy Cross Hospital from the northside post office after they smelled something and began coughing a short time later. 

Local emergency management and law enforcement called for a hazardous waste management team from Los Alamos Fire Department, which arrived about 9:30 p.m. After assessing the situation, two men in full hazmat suits were sent inside the post office with equipment to check for hazardous chemicals.

Bobby Lucero, head of Taos County Emergency Management, said one of the tools the team uses is a thermal  imager. 

The team was still inside the building shortly at 10:45 p.m.


Original story: Police are investigating a report of  noxious fumes  that left some patrons of the northside post office on Paseo del Pueblo Norte in Taos coughing and struggling to breathe on Wednesday evening (Nov. 13).

Taos Police closed off the building and routed traffic around the area. A state police HAZMAT – hazardous materials team – has been called from Los Alamos to the area, according to Edwardo  Martinez, commander of state police in  Taos County. 

At about  5:30 p.m. people at the post office reported a "potential issue of something noxious that was causing coughing and possible breathing issues. Taos Fire department arrived and sent 2 to 4 patrons that were on the scene to Holy Cross Hospital as a precaution," according to an initial statement from town of Taos manager Rick Bellis.

Bellis later said no injuries were reported. 

Everyone in the area who needs to be has been evacuated, according to  Martinez.

Bellis said in the statement that law enforcement believes post office staff had already left for the day before the fumes were reported and were not in the building.

"In the interim, we are asking that people do not go to the post office and avoid the building, parking lot and immediate property until the problem can be identified and contained so that they do not interfere with the first responders at the scene," said Bellis in the statement.  "We will keep you advised as the situation progresses and more information is available."

Taos Emergency Services, New Mexico State Police, Taos Pueblo Police, Taos County Sheriff's Office, Taos Police and Taos Fire Department were all on scene.  

This is a developing story. 


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