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Three hospitalized after anthrax scare

January 23, 2002

Three hospitalized after anthrax scare



By JULIE GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Three Internal Revenue Service employees were taken to City Hospital in Martinsburg Tuesday afternoon as a precaution after an anthrax scare, an emergency services official said.

Two of the workers appeared OK, but one was having difficulties, Berkeley County Office of Emergency Services Director Steve Allen said. Allen would not say what kind of difficulties the worker was having.

It could not be determined whether the difficulties were related to the powdery substance that arrived in a package delivered by one of the mail handling companies for the IRS at around 1 p.m., Allen said.

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No test results were available Tuesday on whether the powdery substance was anthrax, Allen said. The affected area will remain quarantined until test results are available, probably within 72 hours, Allen said.

The substance will be sent to Charleston, W.Va., for that testing.

"Only the Washington County (Md.) Health Department has the capability to do the two-hour preliminary testing and they weren't here," Allen said.

Washington County (Md.) Special Operations personnel are in the midst of training to do that testing with new equipment recently obtained to detect anthrax, said John Bentley, chief of the Maryland organization.

IRS employees in the main building at the Martinsburg Computing Center could not leave the facility for about three hours until the situation "looked OK," said Chuck Koeneke, staff assistant to the director.

Employees were allowed to leave around 4 p.m. even though some shifts usually start leaving at 3 p.m., Koeneke said.

During day shift on a weekday there can be approximately 400 people in the main building, Koeneke said. There are about 900 people employed at the IRS campus.

It couldn't be determined whether a regular shift reported for work Tuesday afternoon.

"It could be absolutely nothing," Allen said, noting that his office has handled about a dozen such incidents since Sept. 11.

Tuesday the team from Washington County, Md., was joined by the Baker Heights Volunteer Fire Co., the Martinsburg Fire Department and an ambulance from Independent Fire Co., Allen said.

Staff writer Marlo Barnhart contributed to this story.

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