Powdery Substances in the Mail

Sixteen Letters to Prominent Addresses

Bangkok Post, October 18, 2001

16 suspect letters found
All addressed to gain maximum publicity

Sixteen letters leaking a suspicious white powdery substance have been found addressed to newspapers, television channels, leading companies and a well-known monk.

The letters, found by a postman attached to Lak Si post office, were reported to Thung Song Hong police yesterday, amid fears the powder could infect people with anthrax.

Police said Samran Maichan, who is responsible for separating mails, found the 16 letters at 1pm. The letters were all collected from a postbox in front of Deesawat Co on Chaengwattana road.

They were addressed to iTV's Thod Rahas (Decoding) programme, Channel 9, Theenee Prathetthai (This is Thailand) TV programme, Channel 5, Thai Rath newspaper, Daily News newspaper, Advance Info Service, Bangkok Bank headquarters, Petroleum Authority of Thailand, Unilever Plc, Thai Airways International, the British Dispensary (LP), Berli Jucker Plc, Toyota Mananakorn Co, the police chief of Na Phralan police station in Saraburi, and Phra Pisarn Thampathee, the outspoken abbot of Wat Suan Kaew in Nonthaburi.

Pol Lt-Gen Anan Piromkaew, metropolitan commissioner, said all the letters had been passed to the Public Health Ministry's Medical Science Department for examination.

A postal employee wears gloves and a mask while examining incoming foreign packages at Laksi mail centre yesterday. Protective gear has been issued amid widespread fears mail could contain biochemical substances.

Interior Minister Purachai Piemsombun was confident Thailand was not the target of bioterrorism. He told the public not to panic about the anthrax scares.

The Medical Sciences Department, meanwhile, said a white powdery substance found in Chon Buri on Monday was only urea fertiliser. Discovery of the substance by residents of Muang district sparked an anthrax scare.

Dr Narongsak Angkhasuvaphala, the department director-general, said examination confirmed the round-shaped crystals, each about one-milligramme size, contained no anthrax spores. However, to be on the safe side, the sample would be kept for another 5-7 days to see if it contained another kind of organism.

It was possible the urea was used for rain-making, which occured in the area on the day the substance was found.

Dr Narongsak said with the current world situation, it was possible there would be more scares and even hoaxes.

"The Chon Buri case is a good lesson to remind us not to panic at whatever we find, especially if there is no supportive evidence which could link it to anthrax," he said. All suspicious objects would be sent for lab tests at the National Institute of Health (NIH) under the department's jurisdiction. The institute was open all day long to receive any substance referred from other agencies.

Deputy Public Health Minister Surapong Suebwonglee said there was only the slightest chance that domestic mail would carry anthrax. People would need a good knowledge of medical science to produce the spores and put them in an envelope. They would also need special clothing to protect themselves from infection. Furthermore, he said, the letters carrying anthrax would have to be carefully wrapped, which would make them stand out from ordinary mail.

Dr Somchai Chakraphan, deputy director-general of the Mental Health Department, said hoaxes of this nature would need careful planning. "These people have fun by causing public fear and confusion. It might be caused by anger or hatred, and they look for a chance to take revenge on society," said Dr Somchai.

He said these people would not easily stop their behaviour, since they took pleasure in seeing others in trouble.

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