SALT LAKE CITY – An environmental sample that falsely tested positive for anthrax caused a scare at the Salt Lake City airport, just miles from the site of the Winter Olympics.
A new screening system detected anthrax at the airport Tuesday night, and when a subsequent test also came up positive, officials began implementing their emergency response plans. The sample was taken to a laboratory for more sophisticated testing and came up negative four times, convincing officials that the two initial results were wrong.
"We have no reason to believe there is any anthrax at the airport because all of our sequential tests were negative," said Scott Williams, deputy director of the Utah Department of Health. "These tests are extremely sensitive and we know that at the first level there is the possibility for a false result."
Officials refused to be more specific about the sample or say where it was found at the airport. They also offered few details about what emergency steps they took after the sample was found, though they said airport operations were never interrupted and no public warnings were issued.
"The airport just alerted their people there may be a need to stop passengers from entering, there may be a need to divert planes away from the airport," Williams said. "It takes a while to put those things into place and we wanted them to begin that process, but to not enact any of those measures until we knew whether we had a confirmation."
Officials decided to publicize what happened to stop any rumors that could've been started by the activation of the emergency response teams.
With the Winter Olympics nearby, there's a heightened level of security throughout the region, especially at the airport.
Last fall there were 18 confirmed cases of anthrax infections, all caused by attacks through the mail. Five people died. No one has been arrested.