A suspicious package mailed to a soon-to-close state Corrections Department facility landed six people at the hospital Wednesday.
Four workers, one inmate and a Columbia firefighter came into contact with a powdery substance that came in the mail at the Watkins Pre-Release Center off Broad River Road, S.C. Corrections Department spokesman Clark Newsom said. All six were taken to the hospital for evaluation, and the incident remains under investigation, he said.
The facility’s administrative building received the package through inter-departmental mail about 9:45 a.m., Newsom said. The person checking the mail opened the package – little more than two bound pieces of cardboard – and the substance flew out, he said. Some got in the woman’s face, Newsom said, causing coughing spells. Officials were quickly contacted.
Columbia Fire Department crews arrived about 10 a.m., said spokesman Brick Lewis. Hazardous material teams investigated the substance, and Watkins employees moved to the facility’s cafeteria. Inmates at the low-facility prison were put on lockdown while emergency crews were on the scene.
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Local, state and federal agencies all were on the scene for about eight hours. The identity of the material is unknown at this time, as is who will be taking over the investigation, Newsom said.
Watkins is set to close in about a week. Newsom said most of the facility’s inmates and all but about 10 staff have already been moved to other facilities. So it was confusing that someone would send the package to the facility, he said.