Chemical and biological analysis of suspicious mail proves negative

Skin anthrax

By Dita Asiedu

Skin anthrax
The Czech population breathed a sigh of relief on Tuesday, after tests showed that the hundreds of letters containing suspicious white powder, proved to be harmless, containing neither anthrax nor any other harmful material. The three people who had been taken to hospital in the North Bohemian town of Liberec as a precautionary measure after receiving a letter from the United States containing quotations from the Bible, were also able to relax after analysis of the letter and envelope showed no sign of hazardous material. In reaction to the ongoing U.S. anthrax scare, the last few days have seen the Czech nation nervous, alert, and suspicious of anything out of the ordinary. According to Czech police spokeswoman, Ivana Zelenakova, the emergency services have been overwhelmed with calls and reports from anxious citizens:

"Since Monday the police and the fire-brigade have had to cope with a wave of reports of suspicious letters and packages. They have been called out to deal with a huge number of suspicious items. On Tuesday, for example, there were 210 calls and throughout Wednesday the number of calls the police and firemen had to respond to increased to 300 cases."

Mrs. Zelenakova, told Radio Prague that after the initial chaotic atmosphere, the numerous calls have now become part of the police and firefighters' routine:

"This is how it works: when the emergency services receive such a report, the police go to the place and take the necessary precautions, such as closing the area off to the public, and the fire-brigade put on special suits, to protect them if there really is some dangerous substance present. The suspicious item is wrapped up and taken for examination to the Institute for Nuclear and Biological Safety. So far we do not know of any instance of an envelope containing anthrax."

To find out about the latest developments in the chemical, radiological, and biological analysis, Dita Asiedu spoke to Pavel Pitterman, the spokesman for the State's Office for Nuclear Safety:

"Until today, we have registered around 500 cases in which we did a chemical and radiological analysis and all of our findings were negative - there was no radiological risk and no chemical risk."

And the biological risk?

"That is no longer our responsibility, it was transferred to the Ministry of Health two days ago".

So what exactly is a chemical analysis?

"We can do these tests in our own laboratory and they check for samples of chemicals which can be used for chemical weapons against people".

How long does such a test take?

"Just in the moment when we measure it".

So does a biological test need to be done for Anthrax?

"Yes, for Anthrax, Ebola, and so on but there were no findings in this area".

So far, the police have tracked down two people who are suspected of having mailed envelopes containing white powder. An eleven year old girl from Prague sent them to two friends and two food stores, and the police have arrested an insurance salesman from East Bohemia, who is also suspected of having sent tens of these envelopes. Although all tests have proven to be negative, the country's Central Crisis Committee has decided to form a working group for biological protection, which will be responsible for evaluating the chances of a future biological attack and proposing effective measures to protect the country efficiently.