Workers outside Senate office building
Andrew Councill  /  AFP - Getty Images
Workers in protective gear work Wednesday night near the Russell Senate Office Building, which was evacuated after sensors indicated the possible presence of a nerve agent.
updated 2/8/2006 10:12:52 PM ET 2006-02-09T03:12:52

At least eight senators were among 200 people held in a Capitol parking garage Wednesday night after a security sensor indicated the presence of a nerve agent in their office building. A later test proved negative. Capitol Police later gave the all-clear.

“Tests initially indicated a nerve agent,” said Capitol Police Sgt. Kimberly Schneider. “A subsequent test indicated it is not a nerve agent.”

Schneider said the senators were among 200 people who were asked to remain in the West Legislative Garage. Senate aides inside the garage said they were told they would be held for up to an hour as authorities awaited the results of a third test for more conclusive results.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., was among the lawmakers inside the garage. He and several of his staff were headed out of the Russell Senate Office Building around 7 p.m. EST when security closed the doors and told everyone to go to the garage, said his spokesman, Mike Buttry.

“We’re stuck until they get the results back,” Buttry said.

No signs of sickness
Schneider said none of the people gathered in the garage was showing any signs of sickness or other adverse symptoms, such as a runny nose, that might indicate the presence of a nerve agent.

She did not know whether sensors positioned in the attic of the Russell building, which picked up the suspicious material, were able to tell whether it was in powder, liquid or gas form. Earlier, police said they had discovered a suspicious powder in the attic.

The Homeland Security Department did not have an immediate comment, but a senior counterterror official said it did not immediately appear to be an emergency.

Among the senators in the building according to aides were: Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., Gordon Smith, R-Ore., Richard Burr, R-N.C., Larry Craig, R-Idaho, John Thune, R-S.D., Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.

Water was being delivered to the garage.

Hazmat teams respond
Hazardous material teams and firefighters were dispatched to the Russell building after the alarm went off at about 6:45 p.m. EST, when Capitol Police began the evacuation.

“The building is closed,” Capitol Police wrote in an e-mail to lawmakers and their staffs.

By 8:45, Capitol Police said they anticipated receiving the results of the third test within an hour, according to an e-mail bulletin sent to Senate personnel.

“We’ll keep everyone until we don’t have the need to keep them anymore,” Schneider said.

Some Senate aides shrugged off the alert when it first sounded, noting that similar alarms go off on the Capitol complex on a daily basis, including a suspicious package notice earlier Wednesday that was quickly investigated and dismissed.

In February 2004, the deadly poison ricin was found in Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s office. Dozens of Capitol employees were quarantined briefly and decontaminated, but none of them got sick.

In October 2001, a month after the terrorist attacks, an anthrax-laced letter shut down Congress briefly and closed the Hart Senate Office Building for months of cleaning. Five people were killed and 17 sickened nationwide after coming into contact with letters containing anthrax.

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