Students admit to white powder incident

While it still hasn’t been positively identified yet, the white powder that appeared on the steps of Robert Moore School here last Thursday afternoon—forcing the school and adjacent Rainy River District School Board office to close Friday—appears to have been the result of a simple error in judgment by some students.
“We have a couple of students who have volunteered some information on the material,” Education Director Warren Hoshizaki said at Tuesday night’s board meeting.
“It turned out to be some material that was found under a sink in one of the classrooms and they took it outside,” he explained.
It was not known at press time whether the students would be disciplined.
Preliminary tests by a laboratory in Winnipeg had revealed the powder was neither a biological agent nor a drug. Authorities were still awaiting final identification of the substance at last report.
“There’s been no illness or death because of it [the powder],” said Bill Limerick, director of environmental health for the Northwestern Health Unit.
The incident began when the Fort Frances OPP was called to the school shortly after 5 p.m. on Thursday after a bag containing a white powdery substance was found on the entrance steps.
Police called in the Northwestern Health Unit, which promptly ordered both the school and adjacent board office closed Friday until tests could be conducted on the powder.
The substance was sent to Winnipeg, where it was found to be not harmful to human health.
Students and staff returned to school Monday.
Limerick said the decision to close the building for the day was not made by the health unit alone.
“We went through a risk assessment with the OPP and the school board,” he explained. “Everybody agreed we shouldn’t take a chance. . . . There was no hesitation on anyone’s part.”
This was largely because of the state the powder was in when it was found.
“You look at the evidence,” Limerick noted. “There’s no markings on it to tell you what it is. And the bag was opened and there was an amount spilled from it.”
Had the bag been sealed, Limerick said the substance likely would have been sent for testing without having to close the building. But an open bag containing an unknown substance poses too many risks, he noted.
“You’ve got to go through these steps,” he stressed. “We’re in a different age than we were a few years ago. You don’t know what’s going on in people’s heads.
“What would you rather do?” he asked. “Prevent some illness and close the school for a day, or suffer the consequences?”
Limerick said the health unit currently is compiling a fact sheet to be distributed to area schools to tell staff what to do should a similar situation arise again.
(Fort Frances Times)