Anthrax false alarms disrupt business

Experts advise public to remain calm but be careful

The fear of contracting anthrax is more widespread than the disease itself, say health experts. That anxiety has infiltrated places of employment, resulting in work stoppages and even work refusals.

Recent reports of “mysterious” powders feared to be anthrax include the following:

•In Halifax, a white powder found on a computer keyboard cleared an office building. The powder was determined to be benign, though it hasn’t been absolutely identified. Preliminary findings suggest it could be cookie crumbs.

•Emergency crews called to the Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga, Ont. determined that an unexpected delivery from the United States was a box containing a back-ordered book.

•At a Montreal company, workers threatened insurrection if they were forced to open the mail.

Emergency crews are sympathetic to the public’s fears and are treating all calls seriously. While they encourage people to be wary, they also advise them to use common sense. If renovations are going on in a building, odds are any powder is drywall dust. If there is a mysterious white substance on a locker room floor, it’s likely talcum powder.

HR professionals can do much to help allay employees’ fears in the workplace and encourage a common sense approach.

The first step may be to educate workers about anthrax. For instance, it may be helpful to employees to know that there is a cure for anthrax and even a vaccination against it. Also, the skin-contact version of anthrax is rarely fatal. For information on anthrax, consult the Centre for Disease Control’s information site at

If your employees’ concerns are focused on the mail, you may want to supply them with gloves and advise them against tearing open envelopes , which might let clouds of powder loose. It’s also important for workers to know what letters and packages to be suspicious of before they open them. A good resource is the B.C. Mail Web site at

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