Anthrax scare temporarily closes Sterling post office Saturday

Posted: Sunday, October 14, 2001

An apparent prank preying on national fears of terrorism created an anthrax scare at the Sterling Post Office Saturday, which prompted an investigation involving the Alaska State Troopers and the FBI.

According to a brief trooper press release, troopers were contacted at 9:10 a.m. Saturday by an employee of the Sterling Post Office concerning pieces of a white substance found in a mail bag. Troopers responded to the post office and investigated the incident. The unknown substance was seized and will be destroyed.

Phone calls to trooper headquarters were not returned, and the FBI could not furnish a spokesperson to answer questions Saturday afternoon.

Leonard Dickerson of Sterling, who works at the Sterling Auto Parts store near the post office, said he saw an FBI van responding to the scene as well.

Dickerson said he heard a trooper giving a report about the incident on an area radio station. A mail handler found a parcel with no return address or sending address and discovered a white, powdery substance in a mail bag, Dickerson said.

"The package or bag wasn't directed to anybody and there was no address on it, so that's what made it suspicious," he said.

Anthrax is a infectious disease of wild and domesticated animals, especially cattle and sheep, caused by bacteria that can be transmitted to people. When anthrax spores are inhaled by humans and lodge in their lungs, they can cause death within a week if left untreated. Anthrax can be contracted by breathing the spores, coming in physical contact with them or by ingestion. It is considered a potential weapon in biological warfare.

The confirmed cases of anthrax contamination in Florida and New York last week are speculated to have come from unidentified white powdery substances found in mail opened at the contaminated sites.

The trooper report stated the Sterling incident has characteristics of a joke or accident, although it said troopers will be taking precautions to destroy the substance.

"(The trooper) said that it looked nothing like the anthrax found in Florida, it was too chalky looking," Dickerson. "He said it looked like someone had just taken chalk and ground it up."

The post office was closed from a little after 9 a.m. to about 12:30 p.m., Dickerson said.

"It was roped off with yellow police tape," he said. "The doors were taped off, and they had it so nobody could drive in the driveway."

Troopers removed the barricades and reopened the post office after confiscating the substance and completing their investigation of the premises.

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