Anthrax Powder is High-Grade, Scientists Say

October 25, 2001 | Source: New York Times

Scientists in and out of government said yesterday that the anthrax strike on Capitol Hill involved an advanced, highly refined powder that is quite dangerous and not the primitive form of the germ that some federal officials have recently described.

The anthrax was altered from its natural state to reduce its electrostatic charge, a process that prevents small particles from sticking together and to nearby objects, thus making them more likely to become airborne.

One expert said that only the United States, the Soviet Union and Iraq were known to have developed the necessary technique. But the experts said some officials were playing down the powder’s potency out of ignorance or an impulse to reassure a frightened public.

Al Zelicoff, a physician and expert on biological weapons at the Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, who is developing a computerized system to allow epidemiologists to track suspicious disease outbreaks, said his conversations with federal investigators had alarmed him.

“These people know what they’re doing,” Dr. Zelicoff said of the anthrax terrorists. “I’m truly worried. They have the keys to the kingdom.”