Anthrax scare hits local phone booths

Published on Thu, Oct 18, 2001 by Meg Olson

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Anthrax scare hits local phone booths

By Meg Olson

Blaine is getting caught up in the national anthrax anxiety. In the last week Blaine police have responded to three reports of white powders and suspicious mail. All three appear to have been false alarms.

On October 10 a 47-year-old Auburn woman reported coming into contact with an unknown white powder as she reached into the coin return slot of a pay phone at the duty-free store on A Street. Two days later a 28-year-old North Delta man also found a white powder in a payphone coin return and called police. The woman later developed flu-like symptoms and both individuals were advised to seek a medical evaluation.

In both cases Blaine police chief Bill Elfo said the department notified the FBI but the incidents did not meet the criteria for further testing of the compounds. Elfo declined to discuss what those criteria were.

“You can’t go and test the world,” said county deputy director of emergency services Neil Clement. “We don’t have the resources to test every white powder. You take it very seriously but you have to look at each incident from a threat perspective and what threatening elements are there,” Clement said. “There are clearly circumstances where we’ll go in and do the investigation and then decide what further tests are warranted.”
On October 13, the county’s hazardous materials team responded to a Blaine business where the owner had received an envelope from Florida with no return address that held a piece of paper that looked like it was taped at both ends. When the envelope was opened it did not contain anything suspicious, but a business solicitation.

Clement said there have been no incidents in Washington where authorities tested a suspicious substance and found anthrax, and no one in the state has contracted the disease. “I’ve never seen a report of it until last week,” he said. “Since then we’ve had five or six reports dealing with unknown substances, suspicious packages or envelopes, things they wouldn’t have given a second thought to before.” He added that across the state there have been about a dozen calls a day from concerned citizens since anthrax cases began to pop up in other parts of the country.
While anthrax is not harming local residents and visitors, Clement said fear of it is. “One of the most dangerous health threats may be the anxiety this has created,” he said. “What’s really distressing is the hoaxes, and we will see those prosecuted where warranted.”

Information on handling suspicious mail is available from the postal service at www.usps.com/news/2001/press. Anyone who finds a suspicious substance should contact authorities, but shouldn’t panic, Clement said.

“If there is a threat, it will be tested. If it proves to be positive it can be treated with antibiotics.”.

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