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Anthrax letters in an open office environment: effects of selected CDC response guidelines on personal exposure and building contamination.

Kournikakisa-B; Martinez-KF; McCleery-RE; Shadomy-SV; Ramos-G
J Occup Environ Hyg 2011 Feb; 8(2):113-122
In 2001, letters filled with a powder containing anthrax (Bacillus anthracis) spores were delivered by mail to a number of governmental and media locations within the United States. In response, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided guidelines for office personnel who might encounter a letter containing suspicious powder. These guidelines were developed during the crisis and in the absence of experimental data from laboratory or field investigations. An obvious need thus exists for quantitative and scientific verification for validation of these guidelines. This study attempts to address this need, adapting earlier work that used a multiple small office test site to create a model system in an open office test site in a vacated office building in which Bacillus atrophaeus spores (as a simulant for B. anthracis spores) were released by opening a letter. Using SF6 as a tracer gas, smoke tubes (containing stannic chloride) to visualize airflow, culturable aerosol sampling, and aerosol spectrometry we were able to characterize airflow and unmitigated spore aerosol dissemination within the office test site. Subsequently, two scripted test scenarios were used to reproduce selected portions of the existing CDC response guidelines and a modified version where the contaminated letter opener warned co-workers to evacuate then waited 5 min before doing so himself. By not leaving together with other co-workers, the risk of the letter opener cross-contaminating others was eliminated. The total potential spore aerosol exposure of the letter opener was not affected by remaining still and waiting 5 min to allow co-workers to escape first before leaving the office. Closing office doors and quickly deactivating the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system significantly reduced spore aerosol concentrations outside the main open office in which they had been released.
Emergency-response; Disease-prevention; Disease-transmission; Biological-weapons; Bacterial-disease; Office-workers; Postal-employees; Safety-measures; Quantitative-analysis; Simulation-methods; Behavior-patterns; Aerosol-particles; Aerosols; Air-flow; Exposure-assessment; Environmental-control; Employee-exposure; Bacterial-dusts; Work-environment; Warning-systems; Ventilation-systems; Author Keywords: Bacillus atrophaeus; BG; spore aerosols; scenario-based modeling
Bill Kournikakis, Defence R&D Canada-Suffield, P.O. Box 4000, Medicine Hat, Alberta, T1A 8K6, Canada
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Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene
Page last reviewed: September 2, 2020
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division