HazMat Box Third Alarm for “Chili Pepper” Discovered in Package Containing Red Powder at James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center

North Chicago Fire Department requested an extra alarm HazMat box about 1:04 p.m. Monday after red powder discovered in a package envelope was dispersed by a ventilation fan at the James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center.

An employee opened the package at a PADS Shelter at Building 5 on the federal property and experienced some burning sensation to her eyes.

After initial investigation, a HazMat alarm was requested and eventually the emergency response was upgraded to a 3rd-alarm at about 1:55 p.m. An EMS Box Level 1 was also requested, which brought about 15 ambulances to the scene.

A chemical research team from Abbot Laboratories was called to the scene, but the researchers couldn’t confirm the identity of the substance. The area was declared a crime scene and the FBI was called to investigate because the incident occurred on federal property.

The red powder was not identified as pepper spray, but there is some connection with chili powder, which is a food ingredient and common in Tex-Mex, Indian, Chinese, Thai, and American Cuisine. The active ingredient of pepper spray is capsaicin, which is a chemical derived from the fruit of plants in the Capsicum genus, including chilis. Extraction of oleoresin capsicum from peppers requires capsicum to be finely ground. The capsaicin is then extracted using an organic solvent such as ethanol. High performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) is used to measure the amount of capsaicin and major capsaicinoids within pepper sprays.

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