Mail service officials in particular are working to assuage the community's fears that the local mail system is susceptible to attack. Testing of the substance found in the letter is expected to take one to two days, and the results will determine the nature of the department's investigation, said Chapel Hill police spokeswoman Jane Cousins.
N.C. laboratory officials have said preliminary test results show that the substance likely is not anthrax.
Cousins said this is the first time the police department has had to send something to be tested for the bacteria.
Other town officials said they are concerned about the letter and the possibility that the white substance is anthrax.
"The fire department is working with the police department and the health department to develop a response policy in line with the (Federal Bureau of Investigation)," said Chapel Hill's Deputy Fire Chief Robert Bosworth.
Supervisor Keith Moser of University Mail Services said the agency has been on alert after recent reports of mail-delivered anthrax cases. "The managers have posted memos around the office and talked to employees about what to look for," she said.
After Sept. 11, the University's post office, located in the basement of Student Stores, began enforcing its policy requiring patrons to show valid University identification when mailing a package more than 16 ounces, said Callie Council, UNC Postal Service supervisor.
Council also said suspicious packages or envelopes received at the UNC post office are placed in a target bag, which is picked up by the federal post office.
"We've always had the precaution that if a package looked or smelled bad or ticked, we kept it separate and it went to a separate distribution center," she said.
But Council said there are no new policies regulating the mailing of letters.
"There should always be a return address with letters," she said. "We don't beat people over the head if they don't have (a return address on a letter), but they always have to have one on a package."
Other University officials said they also are remaining aware of the risks of terrorists targeting officials.
Brenda Kirby, assistant to the chancellor, bought a box of surgical gloves for the employee who opens the chancellor's mail. "I just asked him to be cautious, like we all are at this point," Kirby said.
Several students said safety concerns have led them to take extra precautions with mail. "It's like you're on a 24/7 watch-out," said Stella-Monica Mpande, a sophomore journalism major.
Mpande said she feels overwhelmed by the recent anthrax scares, particularly because it is happening so soon after the attacks on Sept. 11.
Freshman history major Amy Ivey agreed that the widespread cases of anthrax have caused her to worry. "I've been more cautious in making sure that the mail I open is mail that I recognize."
Council urged others to follow necessary precautions with mail from unidentified sources. "My co-worker said he opened a package, and he didn't know who it was from. I would never do that."
The City Editor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.