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White substance spurs scare at storage vault

Published: Thursday, Oct. 8 2009 1:24 a.m. MDT

Emergency personnel attend to the scene at the LDS vault in Little Cottonwood Canyon Wednesday after an unknown white powder was found in the facility. The substance turned out to be harmless ground-up fiberglass. A probe into how it got there is continuing.

Jason Olson, Deseret News

LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON — A suspicious white powdery substance shipped to the LDS Church's granite storage vaults Wednesday turned out to be harmless ground-up fiberglass, hazardous materials crews determined.

Two employees discovered the substance about noon at the Granite Mountain Storage Vault, located near the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Unified Fire Authority Capt. Clint Smith said the two were unloading a shipment of film used in genealogy work when they discovered a white powder with which they were not familiar.

The two employees were isolated while the 43 other employees at the facility were held in a break room at the site until it could be determined what the powder was.

When it was discovered the substance wasn't dangerous, employees were allowed to go home without further decontamination, Smith said. He said those at the facility did a "fantastic job following the procedures."

Smith said the powder was found inside the shrink wrapping around the film, suggesting that it came from the original shipping company and was not placed on the pallet while it was in transit. He said that while investigators do not believe it was placed there maliciously, officials from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints most likely will contact the company to discern how the powder got there.

The in-the-mountainside vault was constructed in the mid-1960s. It serves as a deep archive for the historical departments of the LDS Church. There are reportedly 2.4 million rolls of microfilm in the vault. The mountain location was chosen to protect against intruders, earthquakes, fire and other disasters.

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