Letter’s powder wasn’t anthrax

By Cathy Logg

Herald Writer

STANWOOD — The white powder that spilled out of a letter addressed to the police department wasn’t a threat, but the letter itself was.

The letter got caught in a sorting machine Tuesday and white powder spilled out. It was one of several pieces of mail that recently have drawn firefighters and hazardous materials crews to the U.S. Postal Service’s mail processing center on Hardeson Road in south Everett.

Police had the powder tested by a state Department of Health laboratory in Shoreline. Officials there determined the powder wasn’t anthrax or any type of toxin.

But the envelope contained a threatening letter, Stanwood Police Chief Tom Davis said. He declined to discuss the nature of the threat.

"I believe it was either a copycat or (intended) to play on the fears right now," Davis said. "We are investigating it. No personnel were exposed (to any hazard).

"That letter would have been opened by one of the administrative staff, not by a police officer or an administrator. I want to avoid any of our staff having to go through that," Davis said.

Since evidence of anthrax surfaced last week, state health officials have received about a dozen requests per day to identify unknown, suspicious substances, said Donn Moyer, a state Health Department spokesman in Olympia — up from about one a month prior to that.

"That’s a big increase," he said. "But of all of the tests we have conducted since Sept. 11, there has not been a single positive result for any agent of biological concern. We haven’t seen anything that is at all risky."

Once the determination has been made that the substance isn’t a biological hazard, the lab is finished with it.

"We don’t then go on and determine what the substance is," Moyer said. "We don’t test to see if it’s soap or baby powder or talcum."

Davis said he hadn’t seen the letter or envelope and couldn’t describe it, where it was mailed or whether it had a return address. The letter was sent directly to the lab and is being returned to police, he said.

"It’s a piece of evidence that’s part of a crime now, and that’s how we’re treating it," Davis said.

"It is unfortunate that there are individuals who take this opportunity, when we should be uniting, to create alarm and fear. We’re really struggling to try to inform the public, but not create unnecessary hysteria. What’s important to remember is the number of true anthrax cases are very minimal," he said.

"We’re going to investigate it with all the resources the Stanwood Police Department and the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office have," Davis said.

Police ask anyone with information about the letter or its sender to call detective Sally Heth at 360-629-4555.

You can call Herald Writer Cathy Logg at 425-339-3437

or send e-mail to logg@heraldnet.com.

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