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New Mail Opening Procedures in Capital

October 18, 2001
By: Nicholas Rummell
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Gov. Bob Holden's office has instituted mail opening procedures, following Wednesday's report of anthrax being found in New York Gov. George Pataki's office.

Jerry Nachtigal, Holden's spokesman, said that suspicisous packages, including mail without return addresses and mail from foreign nations or Trenton, NJ -- a location pinpointed for possible terrorist connections -- will be scrutinized.

"The risk of exposure to anthrax is extremely low," said Nachtigal, emphasizing that the state was in a "heightened state of frenzy" over bioterrorism.

Despite the low risk of exposure, the administration suggested to all state agencies that they use mail handling procedures that include opening mail in an area isolated from other employees and providing protective gear -- such as masks, safety glasses and latex gloves -- for employees opening mail.

The paranoia over anthrax in Missouri has also caused increased awareness from the state Health and Agriculture departments.

Health Department spokesman Nanci Gonder stated that Missouri is well prepared for bioterrorism outbreaks, and said that the department would work with federal authorities.

According to Gonder, if a mail item is thought suspicious, they are reported to authorities, who then send the item to the State Health Lab, which can determine within 48 hours if it is contaminated with anthrax.

Health Department officials also said the lab is not currently testing such items for other diseases, such as smallpox.

As of yet, no positive cases of anthrax have been reported in Missouri.

"While we want people to use caution when they open their mail, we don't want people to panic," said Gonder.

The Department of Agriculture has also been on the lookout for anthrax, but has been working with federal, state and local authorities, according to spokesman Sally Oxenhandler.

Oxenhandler stated that cattle or other livestock are unlikely targets for bioterrorism, but said that the department would quarantine and destroy an infected herd, if necessary.