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Tests are negative on white powder

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Tests for anthrax were negative on the white powder discovered Tuesday, Oct. 16 by a lecturer in Foreign Languages and Literature at MIT. Officials at the Massachusetts State Laboratory in Jamaica Plain carried out the tests Wednesday, Oct. 17.

A second report Tuesday of white powder, at the Human Resources Department, apparently was a false alarm. The material was sent for testing, but it appeared to be construction dust on the outside of an envelope from a known person, according to Dr. David V. Diamond, chief of medicine at the MIT Medical Department.

An advisory, "MIT urges caution in mail handling," was posted Monday, Oct. 15 by the News Office. The MIT administration Tuesday also made disposable gloves available for free in Room 56-070 for anyone who wishes to use them for mail handling.

Following the two reports, about 50 members of the MIT community on Tuesday evening attended a quickly organized information session on bioterrorism in Room 26-100. Dr. Diamond and Dr. Howard M. Heller fielded questions about anthrax, where antibiotics would come from if they were needed, what the Institute is doing to increase security and how best to handle the mail.

Heller spoke briefly about the nature of anthrax and the types of risk associated with being exposed to the disease through the mail. This would lead primarily to a skin infection, he said, which is easily recognizable and treatable. Diamond explained the reasoning behind MIT Medical's guideline of only prescribing antibiotics for documented infections.

The hour-long meeting also was attended by members of the MIT Emergency Response Team and the Safety Office.

"It was a good interchange of people seeking information," Diamond said. "There were no overriding emotions. People seemed in control."

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