November 6, 2001

Uris Library Latest to Be Hit by C.U. Anthrax Scare

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Around 9:30 a.m. yesterday a mailroom employee in the shipping room on the lower level of Uris library called the Cornell Police after a suspicious package discharged a powder once placed on a hard surface.

“A decision was made upon the basis of an assessment by EH&S (Environmental Health and Safety) in conjunction with the Cornell Police to take the precaution of closing affected areas [Fiske Room and Cocktail Lounge] until the lab results return,” said Andy Garcia-Rivera, director of EH&S.

The package was not opened by the employee and was removed by EH&S workers wearing Tyvex suits with full-face respirators. Linda Grace-Kobas, director of the Cornell News Service, described the suspicious package as approximately the size of a New York City phone book, with visible damage, containing journals and coming originally from Chile. Garcia-Rivera was able to track the sender and speak with him by phone.

“We’re not taking any chances here,” Grace-Kobas said.

Results from the Wadsworth Laboratory in Albany, where two samples have been sent, are expected within two days. Tests from a similar scare last week at Warren Hall came back negative for anthrax.

Six library employees went to Gannett Health Services and received consultation there. No one is currently being tested or receiving antibiotics for anthrax, as is normal procedure until a positive test for anthrax contamination is obtained.

Dr. Kathleen Vogel, postdoctoral associate in the Peace Studies Program, a chemist and an expert in the spread of biological and chemical weapons said, “It’s good to be vigilant if you see something suspicious, but I am hoping that people not overact and jump to conclusions about these incidents.”

Indeed, over thirty incidents of suspicious materials have been reported, though none have tested positive for anthrax. Most of these incidents were minor and were handled immediately.

The temporary closure of the Fiske Room, popularly known as ‘the Fishbowl,’ and the Cocktail Lounge during a bout of prelims is a cause for concern at the crowded libraries. The rooms are expected to be closed for approximately 48 hours.

Craig Mains, an evening supervisor at Uris Library, said, “The place [Uris Library] is fairly full right now, so there will be more competition for other areas of the library. There are no actual library resources in these areas, just mostly seating areas and a few computers.”

Archived article by Peter Norlander