Search tips
Search criteria 


Logo of jmedtoxspringer.comThis journalToc AlertsSubmit OnlineOpen ChoiceThis journal
J Med Toxicol. 2008 June; 4(2): 93–95.
PMCID: PMC3550131

Analysis of suspicious powders following the post 9/11 anthrax scare



Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, SET Environmental, Inc., a Chicago-based environmental and hazardousmaterials management company received a large number of suspicious powders for analysis.


Samples of powders were submitted to SET for anthrax screening and/or unknown identification (UI). Anthrax screening was performed on-site using a ruggedized analytical pathogen identification device (R.A.P.I.D.) (Idaho Technologies, Salt Lake City, UT). UI was performed at SET headquarters (Wheeling, IL) utilizing a combination of wet chemistry techniques, infrared spectroscopy, and gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy. Turnaround time was approximately 2–3 hours for either anthrax or UI.


Between October 10, 2001 and October 11, 2002, 161 samples were analyzed. Of these, 57 were for anthrax screening only, 78 were for anthrax and UI, and 26 were for UI only. Sources of suspicious powders included industries (66%), U.S. Postal Service (19%), law enforcement (9%), and municipalities (7%). There were 0/135 anthrax screens that were positive.


There were no positive anthrax screens performed by SET in the Chicago area following the post-9/11 anthrax scare. The only potential biological or chemical warfare agent identified (cyanide) was provided by law enforcement. Rapid anthrax screening and identification of unknown substances at the scene are useful to prevent costly interruption of services and potential referral for medical evaluation.

Keywords: anthrax, suspicious powders, field testing of powders, weapons of mass destruction

Full Text

The Full Text of this article is available as a PDF (93K).

Selected References

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.
1. Forrester MB, Stanley SK. Calls about anthrax to the Texas poison center network in relation to the anthrax bioterrorism attack in 2001. Vet Hum Toxicol. 2003;45(5):247–248. [PubMed]
2. Christensen DR, Hartman LJ, Loveless BM, et al. Detection of biological threat agents by real-time PCR: comparison of assay performance on the R.A.P.I.D., the light cycler, and the smart cycler platforms. Clin Chem. 2006;52:141–145. doi: 10.1373/clinchem.2005.052522. [PubMed] [Cross Ref]
3. McAvin JC, Morton MM, Roudabush RM, et al. Identification of Francisella tularensis using real-time fluorescence polymerase chain reaction. Mil Med. 2004;169(4):330–333. [PubMed]
4. Leikin JB, Vogel S, Samo DG. Ten suggestions to improve the medical response to a biochemical event.Chicago Medicine2002;(105):27–28.
5. White SR. Hospital and emergency department preparedness for biologic, chemical and nuclear terrorism. Clin Occup Environ Med. 2003;2(2):405–425. doi: 10.1016/S1526-0046(02)00028-6. [Cross Ref]
6. Association of Public Health Laboratories: Public Health Laboratory Issues in Brief: Bioterrorism Capacity. May 2007. Accessed June 2007 from products_and_publications/documents/bioterrorism_capacity_ issues_brief_2007.pdf.
7. Pavlin JA, Gilchrist MJR, Osweiler GD, Wollen NE. Diagnostic analysis of biological agent-caused syndromes: laboratory and technical assistance. Emerg Med Clin N Am. 2002;20:331–350. doi: 10.1016/S0733-8627(01)00004-9. [PubMed] [Cross Ref]
8. Niemeyr D and the JBAIDS Team. Improving laboratory capabilities for biological agent identification.J of Homeland Security [serial on line] 2004 March. Accessed June 2007 from displayarticle.asp?article=105.
9. Henschal EA, Teska JD, Ludwig GV, et al. Current laboratory methods for biological threat agent identification. Clin Lab Med. 2001;21(3):661–678. [PubMed]
10. Association of Public Health Laboratories: Public Health Laboratory Issues in Brief: Bioterrorism Capacity. April 2005, 1–12. Accessed June 2007 from global_docs/bioterrorism_05.pdf.

Articles from Journal of Medical Toxicology are provided here courtesy of Springer