Suspicious Package at Army Base Investigated for Anthrax
by Megan Scott, Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) - A suspicious package with a white powdery substance prompted officials to lockdown the U.S. Army Reserve Command headquarters building at Fort McPherson late Friday.
Initial field tests indicated that anthrax could be present, but such tests may be inaccurate, the Pentagon said. A sample of the powder was taken across town to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further testing.
"Those field tests have a lot of false positives," said Lisa Swenarski, a CDC spokeswoman.
The four-floor building was locked down with about 200 people still in it late Friday. Access to the Army post in south Atlanta, which is normally tight, was further restricted. A guard turned away a car Friday night with a military sticker, saying that only people who live on the fort were allowed entry.
As a precaution, six people - three military and three civilians - who handled the package were being decontaminated before being sent to a hospital for further examination, said Joe Handley, spokesman for Army Reserve Command.
"The building is closed," Handley said. "We asked everybody to remain in their offices and cubicles. We are taking a reasonable approach to this."
The white-powdery substance was found about 4 p.m. Friday in a sandwich bag-type plastic container. It was not immediately clear how the package got into the building, but Handley said, "there is not an indication it came through the mail."
Handley said most of the military personnel in the building have been inoculated with the anthrax vaccine, but not the civilians. It was not known whether those military personnel exposed had received the anthrax shots.
Nearly 1,000 people normally work in the building, Handley said.
FBI agents were sent to the Fort McPherson.
A law-enforcement official sid the FBI was on the scene but had no confirmation about whether the powdery substance was anthrax.
Llelwyn Grant, a CDC spokesman, said a confirmation test can take 12 to 24 hours.
"We are going to treat it as if anthrax is present," said Grant, noting that the specimens will be packed in a biosafety kit for transport to the CDC.
The Army Reserve Command oversees all Army Reserve units in the contiguous United States except for psychological operations and civil affairs units.
Fort McPherson is also home to the Army's Central Command, which oversees Army operations in Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East and Central Asia. The top Army commanders for that region have been moved to a facility in Kuwait during the Afghanistan conflict, however.
Five people died after anthrax-laced letters were mailed to journalists, politicians and government offices in Florida, New York and Washington last fall. Since then, the military has tightened its mail screening procedures nationwide.