- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 20, 2001

Anthrax scares are changing the way business is done in Washington and the nation despite seven confirmed cases of the disease.

While some Capitol Hill offices remained closed yesterday, mailrooms and businesses nationwide took extra precautions against mail laced with deadly bioterrorism spores.

At Washington's airports, biohazard teams have been checking "everything from cookies to mints," said Tara Hamilton, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority., which manages Ronald Reagan Washington National and Washington Dulles International airports.

Five reports in the last week of suspicious powdery substances at Reagan and Dulles airports have led an FBI crime lab to analyze the leftovers from somebody's lunch.

"We've had white powder," Miss Hamilton said. "We checked them out and they didn't amount to anything."

Northwest Airlines announced yesterday it would pull artificial sweeteners and powdered coffee creamer from all flights because of concern created by a suspicious white powder on two of its flights. In both cases, the substances are suspected to be food residue, although tests were still pending yesterday.

Nevertheless, Northwest recommended to its baggage handlers and emergency personnel who responded to the calls in Vermont that they take Cipro, an antibiotic effective against anthrax, as a precaution.

Concern about anthrax look-alikes prompted a doughnut shop owner in DeBary, Fla., to ban powdered sugar from his doughnuts unless customers ask for it. The manager of the Go For Donuts shop said he instituted the policy after a customer who picked up doughnuts with powdered sugar for co-workers changed his order when the co-workers refused to eat them for fear the sugar was anthrax.

The initial concern seems to be diminishing.

"People are seeing all this exposure for the ridiculous calls and backing off," said Alan Etter, D.C. fire department spokesman. "We went on a call for a jelly doughnut one time."

U.S. postal workers are now given protective gloves and masks for handling mail. Surveillance around post offices has increased and postal inspectors are supposed to be at the offices every day to look for suspicious packages.

The Postal Service could get help from private companies soon. Companies that make sterilizing equipment are figuring out designs that could be used on mail.

Boston-based Consolidated Machine Corp. says its steam sterilizers could be used to heat mail to a temperature that would kill the anthrax spores.

San Diego-based Titan Corp., which makes irradiators for food, said it could bombard anthrax in mail with electrons to kill it.

Another company, New Jersey-based Aramsco, said it can decontaminate mail and other items with gamma rays.

A New Mexico paper company is considering an increase in production of transparent envelopes.

Office equipment company Pitney Bowes Inc., based in Stamford, Conn., said it expects increased demand for its secure mail systems.

"We expect customer and postal partners to value Pitney Bowes' investment in secure technologies, processes and products and people more highly than ever," Chief Executive Michael Critelli said in a conference call with analysts. The company's postage meters are used in offices nationwide.

Meanwhile, more private security firms are including methods to counter bioterrorism in their employee training. At Cleveland's Ran Security Training Academy, training videos are being added on how to deal with bioterrorism.

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