- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 7, 2001

Some publishers have stopped using a cornstarch-based powder that keeps magazine pages from sticking together because readers were mistaking the substance for the dust that contains anthrax.
The cornstarch product is not harmful. For years, publishers have sprinkled it on freshly printed magazine pages to keep them from sticking together and dry ink faster. The white residue sometimes remains on the pages after the magazines are delivered to retailers and subscribers.
Magazines have been treated with the cornstarch powder for years, but readers didn't pay attention to the substance until the anthrax scares last month, publishers say.
"Anybody who sees anything with a white, powdery substance these days gets nervous," said Peter Costiglio, spokesman for Time Inc. The New York company publishes Time, People, Sports Illustrated and other popular periodicals.
Time asked its printers to stop using the cornstarch powder officially called "anti-setoff powder" last month, Mr. Costiglio said. Readers had not complained about the powder, but the company reacted to reports the substance was making consumers nervous, he said.
Fourteen cases of anthrax poisoning have been confirmed in the United States this fall. Most of the cases have been traced to mail handled by government employees, the media or postal workers.
Several false alarms involving magazines have been reported in recent weeks.
Authorities temporarily closed a local health department on Maryland's Eastern Shore Oct. 15 after a secretary found white powder inside a magazine delivered in the mail. A library in Japan was evacuated last month after a worker discovered powder on the pages of the New York Times Magazine.
Authorities determined the powder in both cases did not contain anthrax.
It is not clear how the falloff in use of the cornstarch powder is affecting the companies that produce the substance.
Oxy-Dry Corp., an Itasca, Ill., company that manufactures the powder, told the Wall Street Journal last week that sales have dropped 20 percent since September 11. A company spokeswoman said she did now know if the decline was due to a drop in orders for the cornstarch powder or the overall economic slowdown.
A spokesman for Varn International, an Oakland, N.J., chemical company that also produces the anti-setoff powder, said it has not noticed a drop in business. "We haven't seen any impact at all," said Ronald Conti, the company's research director.
Printers that no longer use the cornstarch powder are switching to other products.
R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., a Chicago company that prints Time, TV Guide and other magazines, said it now uses a silicone spray to keep pages from sticking together.
R.R. Donnelley does not know if it will start using the cornstarch powder again, according to Vera Panchak, the company's spokeswoman. "We're going to do what's best for our customers and take our cues from them," she said.
The level of powder found on magazine pages is often minuscule, but could be higher in the fall, according to Art Slusark, spokesman for Meredith Corp., a Des Moines, Iowa, company that publishes Better Homes & Gardens and other magazines.
Publishers often wrap fall editions of their magazines in plastic and package them with holiday advertising supplements, Mr. Slusark said. The plastic coating could hold powder that would otherwise fall off the pages when the magazines are shipped, he said.


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