Powder found at Chickasha post office determined to be harmless

Monday, October 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICKASHA, Okla. (AP) _ A post office that was closed Monday after some suspicious powder was found was reopened later in the day after the substance was determined to be harmless.

This was the 173rd time the state Health Department has investigated a report of a suspicious substance in the last couple weeks, said department spokesman Dick Gunn. No anthrax or other dangerous material has been found.

Concern about exposure to the bacteria swept the state following reports that it had been detected in envelopes mailed to public and private offices nationwide.

An employee at the Chickasha Post Office was putting some letters and parcels into a small tub of mail Monday morning when she noticed some white powder, said Chickasha Police Chief Robert Hicks. She may have touched the powder while handling mail, he said.

Police triple-bagged the tub in trash bags and brought it to the state Health Department in Oklahoma City for analysis.

Six people were in the post office at the time of the incident. The post office was closed while the substance was being analyzed. It was reopened about noon.

Nationally, over the last 2 1/2 weeks, four men, including one who died, have been diagnosed with inhalation anthrax, a disease not seen in this country since 1978. Six others, including two postal workers in New Jersey, have been infected with a highly treatable form of anthrax that is contracted through the skin. Thousands have been tested for exposure to the bacteria.

In Oklahoma, state Health Department employees have been working seven days a week to analyze suspicious substances, Gunn said. Initial testing can determine within a couple of hours whether any organisms are present in a sample.

Anthrax bacteria occurs naturally in the rural soils of Oklahoma, Texas, and the Mississippi Valley.

But the Health Department could not document the last recorded case of anthrax infecting a person in the state.