Local News

Fayetteville, Cumberland County Officials Plan To Keep Using Anthrax Field Tests

Posted November 8, 2001

— Gov. Mike Easley and state emergency crews have told regional response teams to stop using anthrax field tests, but officials in Fayetteville and Cumberland County say they plan to keep using the field test when they respond to local threats.

The city and county say they plan to continue to use field tests to help them identify possible cases of anthrax. They say they will continue to use them in the same manner that they did at the StudioPlus hotel last Friday where

a suspicious-looking container was discovered

by a custodian.

Hazmat teams showed up and ran field tests on a substance in the container. The first test did not work, but the second and third tests showed positive signs that there was a slight chance the powder in the container was anthrax. Officials later discovered that the substance was not anthrax.

It was a situation that frustrated the state and the governor.

"Anytime you are dealing with a 20 to 30 percent test reliability, it can give you bad information that can cause you to make the wrong decisions," Easley says.

Easley says the problem is that the test detects the presence of several types of bacteria. That bacteria could be anthrax, but the test is only right 20 to 30 percent of the time. However, a negative result is not always accurate either. A test can come back negative if fewer than 10,000 spores are present. About half that amount can cause inhalation anthrax.

Fayetteville city manager Roger Stancil says that even though there is a chance that the test can read false positives, he is uncomfortable not using the test and waiting for results from the state lab that could take up to 72 hours.

"I think the test gives us one more piece of information for the commanders on the scene to make a better decision. If it is a negative test, then that is helpful information," he says.

Easley says the state will soon dispatch six mobile state labs to help speed up the testing process. One of those will be in the Cumberland County area.

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Stancil says that the decision to keep using the field tests was unanimous among the police and fire departments, the sheriff's office, hazmat teams and the county health department.

Officials also say that they plan to pay for the tests out of their own budgets. The cost of each test is about $100. Stancil say it is a small price to pay for the protection of citizens.

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