Skip to main content
U.S. Edition
Search
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
U.S.

Senate nerve agent scare a false alarm

More than 200 were evacuated from Russell office building

story.staffers.cnn.jpg
Evacuees from the office building were taken to a nearby garage where they stayed for more than two hours.

YOUR E-MAIL ALERTS

U.S. Senate
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

(CNN) -- A U.S. Senate office building was evacuated Wednesday evening after a sensor detected the presence of a possible nerve agent, but it was later determined to be a false alarm, sources said.

Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer said the building was "all clear" as footage from the scene showed the evacuees leaving the area where they had been gathered after the scare.

Eight senators and more than 200 staffers were evacuated after alarms sounded at 7 p.m. in the attic of the Russell Senate Office Building, just north of the Capitol, Senate aides said. (Watch how the people inside were taken to a nearby garage -- 3:30)

Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said she couldn't say whether it was powder, gas or liquid that was detected. It was more like "something in the air" in the building's attic, which takes up an entire floor of the 658,000-square-foot building, she said.

She added that a cleaning solvent could have falsely set off the sensor in the attic, which is used primarily as storage space.

"We grabbed our coats. We grabbed our bags. We were running down the hall to evacuate," said Eileen McMenamin, a spokeswoman for Sen. John McCain.

The evacuees were taken to an underground parking garage next to the building, McMenamin said. Footage from the scene showed the evacuees leaving the garage about 9:30 p.m.

Schneider said earlier that the evacuees in the garage were "being briefed on the situation and they're also being cared for."

She said no one received treatment because none of the evacuees reported having any symptoms of nerve agent exposure -- not even a runny nose.

Police echoed that no one has shown symptoms of exposure, leading one security expert to suspect a false alarm before it was even announced.

If a high concentration of nerve agent had been released in the building, those inside would have exhibited watery eyes, choking and other "very distinct, very sudden-onset symptoms," said Dean Wilkening of the Stanford University Center for International Security and Cooperation.

"My guess is this probably is a false alarm," Wilkening said.

McMenamin said police had ordered those evacuated to remain in the parking garage until additional tests were complete.

"They said this is precautionary because it could be fertilizer or anything else," she said.

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, "Nerve agents are the most toxic of the known chemical-warfare agents."

Story Tools
Click Here to try 4 Free Trial Issues of Time! cover
Top Stories
Get up-to-the minute news from CNN
CNN.com gives you the latest stories and video from the around the world, with in-depth coverage of U.S. news, politics, entertainment, health, crime, tech and more.
Top Stories
Get up-to-the minute news from CNN
CNN.com gives you the latest stories and video from the around the world, with in-depth coverage of U.S. news, politics, entertainment, health, crime, tech and more.
CNN U.S.
CNN TV E-mail Services CNN Mobile CNNAvantGo Ad Info About Us Preferences
Search
© 2007 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by CNN.com
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines