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False alarm at Michael Starr building

Police, HAZMAT on scene after suspicious substance found in mail

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The street in front of the downtown Michael Starr building was lined with emergency vehicles and part of the parking garage and sidewalk cordoned off after a suspicious substance was found in the mail. Police say this was a false alarm, and may have possibly been remnants of a cigarette. This is the second time a suspicious substance has been found in the building in under two years. An incident from October 2014 is still under police investigation.

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

A heavy police and fire presence in Oshawa’s downtown had many people asking questions. However, it turned out to be a false alarm.

Durham police were called to the Michael Starr building at the corner of King Street West and Centre Street on the afternoon of March 2 for a package containing a suspicious substance that was found in the building’s mail.

The building was quickly attended by multiple police cruisers, Oshawa fire services and the Ontario Provincial Police’s HAZMAT team.

Further investigation found the substance to be a harmless, plant-based material, possibly the remnants of a cigarette, according to Sgt. Bill Calder, a spokesperson for Durham police.

“There’s so many factors that can make it suspicious, not just the substance that might fall out of an envelope,” he says. “By suspicious, it can be anything that’s in the mail that doesn’t seem like it should be there.”

While a false alarm is always good news, Calder says every call is treated the same, and DRPS always urge citizens to call in if they’re uncertain.

“We treat it very seriously and do our full protocol when we go to them,” he says.

Along with the police presence, fire services will take air samples to detect any substances and the OPP HAZMAT team will take samples of the substance for testing.

In speaking with employees in the building at the time, The Oshawa Express learned the call did not require the facility to be evacuated. The majority of the responders appeared to be at work in the building’s garage area off of Athol Street, where a section of sidewalk was cordoned off.

The incident was not the first time DRPS have been called to the building for a suspicious package.

In December 2011, the building was evacuated after a suspicious package was found on one of the upper floors. Nobody was injured in the incident.

More recently, in October 2014, a suspicious substance was found in the building and caused the evacuation of the seventh floor. In this case, Calder says it is being actively investigated and has actually seen recent activity.