Thursday, October 18, 2001

Doctor's plea: common sense

Health official says scare leads to 'stupid things'

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — Health Commissioner Dr. Rice Leach said the burden on law-enforcement and emergency officials would ease if people would use more common sense in dealing with suspicious materials.

        “We've had some plumb stupid things happen around our commonwealth,” Dr. Leach told the interim Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday.

        While well-intentioned in most instances, Dr. Leach said, the flood of calls warning about suspicious letters, powder and people are straining the response systems.

        Not one of the dozens of reports of suspicious materials has turned up a positive test for anthrax or any other hazardous material, Dr. Leach said.

        “The biggest public problem at this time is the fear and anxiety associated with the presence of an unknown threat. People are just plain scared,” Dr. Leach said.

        The fear has manifested itself in calls to law-enforcement and health officials on some otherwise ridiculous items.

        Dr. Leach repeated his advice that if a letter or package is unknown and unexpected, throw it away.

        “If you burn anthrax, it's gone. If you bag it, it's back in its natural environment,” Dr. Leach said. Otherwise, if really concerned, call the authorities. If it spills, cleaning with a diluted bleach solution kills any potential contaminants.

        The state laboratory has enlisted the aid of laboratories at the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville to test suspicious items.

        State government installed new mail- and package-handling procedures on Monday after a suspicious letter addressed to U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., wound up at the Capitol Annex. The letter was tested and proved negative for any hazardous material.

        Administration Commissioner Don Speer said mailroom employees have been gloved and the state is obtaining filter masks for mail handlers at the central postal areas and for those who work in agency mailrooms.

        Elsewhere in Kentucky:

        • The Helms-Craven library, the main library at Western Kentucky University, was closed Wednesday afternoon while a hazardous-materials team from the Bowling Green Fire Department checked the building following a report of a suspicious envelope, which tested negative for anthrax.

        • Twelve employees were decontaminated Tuesday and sent to the emergency room for treatment after a suspicious package arrived at J.L. French, a tool-and-die manufacturer in Glasgow. None of the employees exhibited symptoms of any type. The substance found is undergoing tests.


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