McGee Avenue woman mistakes spilled detergent for anthrax

Hank Sims Daily Planet staff
Thursday December 20, 2001

The Berkeley Police Department and the Berkeley Fire Department were called to the 1700 block of McGee Avenue at around 9 a.m. Wednesday after a woman found a suspicious white powdery substance in her driveway. 

The victim told police that she suspected the powder may have been laundry detergent, since she could not find the box of it she bought the night before. Thinking the powder could have been anthrax, she evacuated the premises and asked the city to take a look. 

Officer Dan Frederick of the BPD was the first to arrive at the scene. After scrutinizing the powder’s appearance and smell, he determined that it was, in fact, detergent of some sort.  

Frederick considered using the victim’s garden hose to wash the substance away, but held off in light of the city’s policy on dumping materials into storm drains. 

Members of the BFD’s Station Four were temporarily stymied by the traffic-calming bumpers on McGee Avenue, but were able access the house after driving around the block.  

The firefighters confirmed Frederick’s detective work.  

They used a broom and dustpan from their truck to sweep up the bulk of the detergent, then used the garden hose to eliminate the remaining traces. 

Asst. Fire Chief Dave Orth later said it was the first anthrax call the department had received in quite a while. 

“The number of calls we’ve received has practically diminished to nothing,” he said. 

Orth said despite the fact that the scare turned out to be unwarranted, the caller did the right thing.  

“We don’t blame people,” he said. “If you really don’t know and you feel uncomfortable, you should call. That’s part of the service we provide.”