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The Daily Tar Heel

Reports of Suspicious Letters Decreasing, All Have Proved False

Officials say all reported letters either lack a return address or have been sent from the Middle East and have all been false alarms.

In the past 10 days, there have been about seven reports of suspicious letters, bringing the total to about 30 since the nationwide anthrax scare began, said Peter Reinhardt, director of the Health and Safety Office in the Department of Environment, Health and Safety.

Reinhardt said the letters mostly fit into two categories. They have either been letters without return addresses that the receiver did not expect or letters sent from countries in the Middle East.

Chemistry Professor Ed Samulski said he received a letter from Baghdad, Iraq, on Friday, which caused him some concern but did not alarm him.

"I suspected this letter might be a request for a reprint of something I had published or an inquiry from a student about enrolling in school here," Samulski said. "It's a sad indication of the state we're in that I would think twice about opening the letter."

Samulski said he set the letter aside and went to lunch, during which he told his colleagues about the letter.

He said his co-workers became extremely concerned about the letter's possible contents and insisted that he call the Department of Public Safety.

Officials from the DPS and Environment, Health and Safety Department responded and took possession of the letter, which according to procedure, officials would typically destroy after a set number of days.

But Samulski said he wants the letter back so he can respond to the sender.

"It's one of the few things we can do for people in that part of the world is communicate with them," he said.

Reinhardt said ultimately it is up to the mail recipient to decide whether to report a letter as suspicious. "Everyone has to make personal decisions (about what they deem suspicious)," he said.

Reinhardt speculated campus reports of suspicious letters have dwindled because there have not been recent national reports of additional source letters containing anthrax.

If more reports of anthrax-contaminated packages surface, people will likely raise their awareness, Reinhardt said.

At this point, he said, campus mail openers do not need to be overly concerned about the possibility of contracting anthrax.

"Because no packages (containing anthrax) have been found in North Carolina or at the University, we're telling people the use of gloves is voluntary," he said.

"At this point, this is the only precaution that needs to be considered."

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