Tahlequah Wal-Mart shut down after white powder discovered

Monday, October 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

(TAHLEQUAH) - A small amount of white powder that spilled from a stack of magazines at a 24-hour Wal-Mart prompted an evacuation and closure of the store Monday.

Authorities suspect the powder may have been used in the printing process and is harmless.

But as a precaution and in light of recent anthrax cases nationwide, emergency officials sent the substance to the Oklahoma State Department of Health for testing, said Scott Pettus, public information officer for the Tahlequah-Cherokee County Emergency Management Agency.

``Just to make sure, we're going to have it tested,'' he said.

The store was expected to remain closed until the test results are received, something expected Monday evening.

Wal-Mart spokesman Tom Williams said that a Wal-Mart store in Orange City, Fla., also closed Monday as a precaution because of a white powder found in boxes of videos. That store, too, was awaiting word from health officials, he said.

``We always err on the side of caution,'' Williams said.

A magazine representative was stacking about 10 copies of Better Homes and Gardens magazine at a checkout counter around 10:45 a.m. when he noticed a white powdery substance coming from the magazines, Pettus said.

``It was a minuscule amount,'' he said, ``about 3 inches long and about as wide as an ink pen''

The magazine's publisher told authorities that it uses a fine powder in the printing process to keep the pages from sticking together, he said.

``They are telling us this is about the 10th time they've gotten a call on this,'' he said.

The Tahlequah Fire Department's hazardous materials unit responded to the scene.

Pettus said he didn't know how many customers were in the store at the time.

No one was held for observation.

Twelve people nationwide have tested positive for the presence of the anthrax bacteria, and two have developed the disease. In Washington on Monday, authorities said a letter sent to the office of Sen. Tom Daschle was found to have anthrax.