Threat of Bioterrorism Creates Balancing Act

Article excerpt

Byline: Diana Wallace Daily Herald Staff Writer

Local public health and law enforcement officials tried to calm jittery residents Monday as fears of bioterrorism spread from Capitol Hill to the Western suburbs.

Officials stressed that no cases of anthrax or other forms of bioterrorism have been found in Illinois.

But as police throughout the area responded to dozens of suspicious-powder reports, officials found themselves in a delicate balancing act.

They're trying to keep the public calm while separating credible from non-credible threats. Meanwhile, they're still grappling with how to respond to such calls themselves in an arena that's new to virtually everyone involved.

"I don't know that we were any more prepared for (bioterrorism) than we were for Sept. 11," said Dr. James Hagen, deputy executive director of the DuPage County Health Department, "but we're trying to get ahead of the curve on this one. ...I think we're all feeling our way with this and training is happening as we speak."

While public safety officials said they take all concerns seriously, they also said they simply don't have the resources to deploy hazardous-materials workers in protective suits to every suspicious-powder call.

"We can't do that all the time. It's too expensive, too taxing," Villa Park Fire Chief Robert Wilson said.

In some cases, officials said they were able to dismiss bioterrorism without the substance in question actually being tested for anthrax. Some cases of suspicious powders turned out to be as benign as soap and sugar, officials said. …