Boulder police say that a substance that made people sick inside the Mesa Vista assisted living facility and prompted a partial evacuation of the building on Wednesday afternoon was bear repellent.
Police spokeswoman Shannon Aulabaugh said one person asked to be taken to Boulder Community Health's Foothills Hospital as a precaution, but the person did not have life-threatening injuries.
Boulder police and fire departments responded to the four-story building located at 2121 Mesa Drive at about 3:30 p.m. and ordered that the HVAC system be shut down. They remained on scene to check every room to make sure no bear spray residue remained in the vents, Aulabaugh said.
While 18 people on the first floor were taken out of the building, the people on the remaining three floors sheltered in place, and no mass evacuation of the building happened, she said.
Police radio traffic indicated that someone called 911 to say a receptionist found a water bottle with orange liquid inside, opened it and began to have trouble breathing and turned orange. The caller said that everyone in the immediate vicinity also became sick.
Firefighters used a hose to wash off at least one employee — who was later seen climbing into an ambulance — in front of the building and taped off the parking lot, and several employees could be seen coughing. A nearby resident who didn't give his name said he was leaving his house as a precaution and loaded his dog into a car.
Aulabaugh said that investigators determined that the bottle and orange liquid didn't have anything to do with the bear spray, and police are now investigating to determine why bear spray was released in the building and whether it involved any criminal activity.
Police closed 19th Street from Mesa Drive to Bluff Street and multiple ambulances were parked along the street on standby. The scene was cleared shortly before 7 p.m.
Bear spray is a super-concentrated pepper spray that is effective at deterring bears, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.