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Hand Soap Warning

Claim:   Acid was placed into in hand soap dispensers in the restrooms of rest stops in Alabama and Florida.

FALSE

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, March 2009]

**SPRING BREAK TRAVEL ADVISORY**

Beginning yesterday afternoon, it was discovered that someone replaced the hand soap in the men's restrooms with an unknown substance. The first reported incident was near I-10 at the Alabama Welcome Center in Baldwin County. Testing is being carried out by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. This morning another incident occurred in Chilton County (b/w Montgomery and Birmingham) on I-65 where the employee noticed that the hand soap container had been tampered with. Upon further inspection, the employee discovered that jugs in the storage area appeared to have the same material added. Sample substance appears to be acid but is enroute to the Alabama Department of Public Health for testing. It appears that Florida may have two incidents of the same nature.
 

Be very careful when using public washrooms...especially rest areas on the Interstate. A confidential memo I just received states that someone is putting a very toxic chemical in the soap dispensers in mens and ladies rooms in Alabama Rest areas. This could be happening in other locations.

Recommendation; Bring your own hand sanitizer with you.

The stuff they are putting into the dispensers is very harmful is swallowed or gets in the eyes. Also burns skin.
 

Origins:   The threat of random malicious tampering with the everyday products we use hangs over us all. This fearsome aspect of modern life was driven home by the 1982 Tylenol murders in which ordinary use of a previously unquestioned over-the-counter headache medicine left seven people dead after cyanide was deliberately slipped into bottles of the painkiller. The fear that through no fault of our own we'll innocently end up victims of random tampering underpins a number of baseless Internet-fueled scares, including the 2000 panic about HIV-laden syringes being affixed to gas pump handles and 2004 concern about HIV-positive blood being slipped into fast food ketchup dispensers.

This warning about acid having been found in hand soap dispensers at restrooms in Alabama and Florida has been in circulation since mid-March 2009. While the heads-up was based on an actual incident, the substance involved appears to have been much less harmful than originally assumed.

On 9 March 2009, the presence of an unusual-smelling liquid was noticed in the men's restroom soap dispenser at a rest stop on I-65 in Clanton, Alabama. Cleaning personnel noted what they perceived as a strong caustic scent emanating from the dispensers. A similar-smelling substance was
also noted in the soap dispenser of a men's restroom at a Chilton County rest area on the I-65 and at another rest stop along I-75 in Marion County, Florida.

Pending analysis of the substance, the transportation department closed the affected rest areas and ordered inspections of Alabama's remaining seven welcome centers and 19 rest areas. Involved in the investigation were the Alabama Department of Transportation, Alabama Bureau of Investigation, Clanton Police, Chilton County and state Emergency Management Agencies, U.S. Geological Services hazardous materials team, and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

According to Chilton County Sheriff Kevin Davis, the suspect substance at both Alabama locations was determined to be not a "toxic chemical" put into soap dispensers by some malevolent pranksters intent on harming unsuspecting rest stop users, but rather "a different kind of soap or soap that was outdated or had separated." Davis noted that "The cleaning personnel said the substance in the dispenser smelled different, but it turned out to be just soap." The Chilton County and Marion County finds were also determined to be harmless, according to Tony Harris, an Alabama Department of Transportation spokesman.

Suspect soap was discovered at another location, the Interstate 10 welcome center in Baldwin County (near the Florida border). That facility was also closed while officials awaited test results.

Barbara "restroom check" Mikkelson

Last updated:   16 March 2009

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Sources:

    Maze, Brent.   "Substance Identified as Soap, Rest Areas Reopened."
    Clanton Advertiser.   10 March 2009.

    Myers, Craig.   "Baldwin Welcome Center Remains Closed."
    AL.com.   12 March 2009.