Anthrax scares in area harmless

Posted: Tuesday, October 16, 2001

Saturday's mail scare at the Sterling Post Office was one of three such occurrences on the Kenai Peninsula over the weekend.

Each one -- two in Sterling and one in Homer -- turned out to be less of a threat than initially suspected.

Alaska State Trooper Lt. Tom Bowman said the first incident in Sterling was actually chalk that had been broken up and powdered throughout the mail bag it was found in.

"There were actually a couple of pieces of long chalk," Bowman said. "The pieces looked like chalk, felt like chalk and wrote like chalk."

Bowman said some of the chalk had probably broken up in the bag, producing powder all over the bag's contents. He said there was no chance, however, that the chalk had come from a piece of mail.

"All of that mail was intact," he said. "The items absolutely, positively did not come out of a piece of mail."

Nancy Schmitt, spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service in Alaska, said the white powdery substance possibly got into the mail bag by mistake.

"It fell in the bag in Seattle," Schmitt said. "The bag was sitting (open) next to a chalk board before leaving for Sterling."

During the investigation, Bowman said a piece of mail was presented from a completely separate location that was deemed suspicious because it did not have a return address. He said troopers contacted the addressee and eventually opened it, revealing another harmless piece of mail.

"It was from Texas," Bowman said. "The (addressee) had visited a car dealership in Texas and left his address there. The dealership sent him mail about a sale they were having."

Bowman said a third call was made from Homer, early Saturday evening regarding a similar scenario with mail from an unidentified source. He said troopers dispatched to this call examined the mail and found that it was an advertisement for calendars.

Troopers are not taking these suspicious mail calls lightly, he said. They are prepared to deal with whatever comes up, he added.

"We have systems in place so that if we do come across a threat, we can get it up to Anchorage and have it analyzed," Bowman said.

"We do expect to be doing more of them. All the troopers on the peninsula have read everything there is on anthrax. We're more than ready to take on these investigations."

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