Bio-terror scares hit WA, FL

Two bio-terror scares struck opposite coasts of the U.S. Tuesday.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | BALTIMORE | April 22, 2003


Two bio-terror scares struck opposite coasts of the U.S. Tuesday as packages containing unidentified powders were discovered in Tacoma, Wash., and Fort Myers, Fla.

The first incident occurred in a postal facility in Tacoma at 1:30 a.m. PST. Four postal workers there were potentially exposed to a powdery substance, alternately described as either white or brown according to conflicting reports, said Jerry McKiernan, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service. All four workers were decontaminated and sent to a local hospital for observation. All 95 employees at work in the facility were evacuated.

McKiernan said the substance initially tested positive "for a bio-toxin of some sort." It also tested negative for anthrax.

The second scare happened at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, Fla., according to Capt. Dave Wheaton, a spokesman for Lee County Emergency Medical Services.

Wheaton said seven postal workers were exposed to "a white powdery substance" when a Fed Ex air cargo container was opened.

Two of the employees complained of a burning sensation in their eyes and noses, and six were treated and released from the Cape Coral Hospital, he said.

Preliminary tests on the substance found it negative for biological material.

"It could be just about anything," Wheaton said. The quantity of powder was so small, he said, that barely enough could be gathered to perform any tests. However, as a precaution, none of the mail in the container left the airport.

The cargo container originated in Memphis, Tenn., Wheaton said.

According to Laska Ryan, spokeswoman for the airport, the cargo building near where the powder was found was shut down Tuesday, while the rest of the airport continued to function normally.


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