East Bay customs workers return to work following hazmat scare

Two U.S. Customs and Border Protection employees who felt ill after opening an envelope for inspection in Alameda on Wednesday have been released from the hospital while the cause of their ailment remains unclear, an agency spokesman said.

Things were back to normal Thursday at the Customs and Border Protection office in the 2400 block of Mariner Square Loop, spokesman Fred Ho said.

A woman checking mail that had been flagged for inspection after coming from abroad felt sick after opening an envelope at 12:37 p.m. Wednesday. That woman had a headache and her eyes were watering, according to Ho, who also said two other employees felt ill and had difficulty breathing.

A crew from the Alameda County Fire Department hazardous materials team responded and tried to find the source of the illness, but couldn’t find anything dangerous.

The envelope didn’t appear suspicious after the woman opened it and she continued sorting mail, so even that couldn’t be found, Ho said. As an agricultural specialist, she frequently checks mail that contains odd materials such as spices.

The woman was taken to a hospital for treatment. The other two employees were both treated to the scene and one of them later drove himself to the hospital, Ho said.

Both have been released as of this morning, he said.

There were 16 employees working in the office at the time and they were all evacuated as the building was checked for hazardous materials. They are back to work this morning, Ho said.