Chemical Scare Empties North Dakota Courthouse

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - Authorities evacuated five people from the federal courthouse here early Monday when a monitoring system malfunctioned and indicated the presence of deadly hydrogen cyanide.

Firefighters donned special suits to search the Quentin N. Burdick Federal Courthouse with detectors, and found no hazardous chemicals present in the building, Fire Department spokesman Norm Scott said.

The alarm at the courthouse sounded about 7 a.m., half an hour before the building opens. Employees were allowed to enter around 8 a.m., after the firefighters had done their work.

"Considering the toxicity of the chemical that (the system) supposedly detected, we have to go through procedures," Assistant Fire Chief Larry Schuh said.

High concentrations of hydrogen cyanide gas can kill seconds or minutes after it is inhaled, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The substance is used in electroplating, fumigation and executions in some states.