U.S. Embassy Workers in Paris Poisoned by Tear Gas in Suspicious Letter

PARIS -- Two men who work for the U.S. Embassy in Paris underwent medical tests after handling a suspicious letter Friday, the embassy said, and Paris police said it appeared they had been exposed to tear gas fumes.

Mailroom employees identified a suspicious letter and the embassy alerted French authorities, Embassy spokesman Paul Patin told The Associated Press. The letter was examined by chemical experts and the two people who handled it were examined at the Paris hospital Hotel-Dieu, he said.

The central laboratory of the Paris police identified the irritant as tear gas, according to a police official who was not authorized to speak to the media.

An embassy employee received a manila envelope sent as registered mail that had no mail inside, but it began emitting fumes after the employee opened it, the official said.

The official said the throats and eyes of the employee and two others were irritated. There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy in the number of exployees reported affected.

Two months ago, Paris police were asked to investigate a similar case involving a letter to the U.S. ambassador, the Paris police official said.

The embassy did not provide further information about where the letter came from or the nationalities of the employees. The mailroom is in the main building of the U.S. embassy, located just off the Champs-Elysees not far from the French presidential palace.

The embassy, which is always surrounded by layers of security, remained open after the incident.

Suspicious mail has gotten particular attention since 2001, when five people in the United States were killed and 17 fell ill after opening letters containing anthrax. Postal facilities nationwide were shut for inspection after the letters containing anthrax spores were sent to lawmakers and news organizations after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The FBI concluded that an army scientist, Bruce Ivins, was responsible for those attacks. Ivins, who killed himself in 2008, denied involvement in the anthrax letters and his family and some friends have continued to insist that he was innocent.