Archive for Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Concerns about anthrax virus permeate throughout county

October 17, 2001

Ask Leavenworth County Undersheriff Dave Zoellner about anthrax, and he'll say he's not an expert on the dangerous virus.

But it's likely he and other sheriff's officers soon will be.

Since Saturday, the sheriff's department has responded to six calls about suspicious substances or packages. None involved anthrax or any other dangerous materials.

"It's got people in an uproar," said Zoellner, a major in the department. "But what can you do?"

Zoellner said that if anyone received or found a suspicious material they should call 911.

"They should cover it with a plastic bag," he said. "Don't touch it. Just cover it. Let it sit, get away and notify the authorities. Don't panic. Don't let everybody look at it and call your neighbors and tell them, 'Look at what we've got.'"

For more than two years, members of the sheriff's department have received training about weapons of mass destruction, which includes biological warfare.

"Now, it's a reality," Zoellner said.

Each call will be investigated, he said.

"You have to work on the side of caution and treat it as a worst-case scenario," he said. "It's a concern all over the world. Locally, it's a concern."

Here are details on the recent scares:

At the Leavenworth County Courthouse on Tuesday morning, a suspicious letter arrived through the mail from out of state. An officer X-rayed the letter, opening it while decked out in a breathing apparatus and a hazardous-materials suit. "It turned out to be nothing," Zoellner said.

On Monday, an employee of Armed Forces Insurance in Leavenworth opened an envelope that contained white powder. "We actually talked with the woman who sent the letter," Zoellner said. As it turned out, she had used a leftover wedding announcement envelope that contained a scented powder. "It's not a good time to be using those envelopes," the major said.

Officials received a report on Monday about a suspicious package at Great Western Manufacturing in Leavenworth. "That turned out to be phone books," Zoellner said.

Late Saturday morning, a white powder was discovered in an outside box at the U.S. post office in Leavenworth. "It was sent to the lab," Zoellner said. "EPA was notified, along with postal inspectors. We were told it was not anthrax. But they never did identify what it was."

Two county residents contacted Leavenworth County sheriff's officers on Sunday, after finding a white powder in their Kansas City newspapers. The residents live in the 21800 block of 179th Street and the 18200 block of 165th Street. An investigation, which included talking with newspaper officials, revealed that the powder was from the newspaper production process.

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