Juneau anthrax tests: All negative

Posted: Tuesday, October 16, 2001

Nasal swabs taken from six Juneau state workers have tested negative for anthrax, according to final results by the state public health laboratory.

A suspect envelope also showed no signs of the potentially deadly bacterium in test results released today, said Bob King, spokesman for Gov. Tony Knowles. The news means employees may return to two rooms in a building on Main Street and Third Street sealed since last week.

"The office will be reopened," King said.

The state workers were tested for anthrax exposure after an employee who works at a structure known as the Community Building opened a letter on Friday and saw a puff of powder. The employees alerted authorities, who evacuated and sealed two rooms in the building, which houses some offices of the state Department of Education and Early Development.

The envelope contained a check from an Alaska school district and had no visible signs of powder inside, but the state ran the tests as a precaution, King said.

"I think it confirms what our expectations were, and hopefully it will be a relief to the individuals involved and their families as well as their co-workers and others," King said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard had an anthrax scare in one of its offices at the downtown Federal Building on Monday afternoon.

The agency called Juneau police after an employee found some "unusual dust flakes" at a computer work station on the sixth floor, said Lt. Brad Wilson, a Coast Guard spokesman. Wilson said the substance probably was debris that fell from the ceiling.

"The wind we had probably rattled some roof tiles somehow and caused a little mess but we want to be careful," Wilson said. "We want to err on the side of caution."

A sample of the substance was sent to an Anchorage lab for testing, said Capt. Tom Porter of the Juneau Police Department. None of the federal employees was tested for anthrax, but the Coast Guard has sealed the room until test results on the powder rule out the bacterium, Wilson said.

Employees at the state public health lab in Anchorage are working overtime responding to anthrax scares across the state, said King, the governor's spokesman. Twelve new reports came in Monday, King said, including one that temporarily shut down an Anchorage veterans clinic. Authorities evacuated the clinic after an employee found a threatening note on an outside bench and a powdery substance in an examination room.

"If it turns out to be a hoax, whoever did it really put patients out. And that's a sad commentary on this thing," said Michael Bell, community affairs director there.

Anchorage police also were contacted after a letter containing a packet of yellow and white powder was opened at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute on Monday. Employees sealed it and contacted authorities without reading the letter, said Randall Burns, chief executive officer for the Anchorage facility.

"We want to reassure people we are taking each of these seriously," said Anchorage police spokesman Ron McGee. "However, it is stretching our resources thin."

An Alaska Airlines 737-200 was grounded in Anchorage overnight on Saturday after a cleaning crew reported a white powder found on a passenger seat, said Jack Evans, an Alaska Airlines spokesman.

Passengers were put on another jet, and the seat cover was sent for testing, Evans said. The substance tested negative for anthrax.

That has held true for every anthrax test so far, said King, the governor's spokesperson.

"None of the test results that have come in so far have indicated any anthrax in Alaska," King said. "But it takes a couple days and we're still catching up with the new incidences as they occur."

Kathy Dye can be reached at kdye@juneauempire.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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