Chalk scare hits close to home

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SALEM, Ohio – It was another case of a white powder scare in the mailroom, but this time it hit closer to the homefront for “Farm and Dairy” readers.

Approximately 30 “Farm and Dairy” newspapers were stopped by the Vienna post office Oct. 31 after the bulk mailing bag carrying them was found coated in a white powdery substance, which turned out to be chalk.

“I guess there was powder all over the bag,” said Randy Culler, printing plant manager, who received a phone call from the Youngstown post office after the discovery.

“But I load the papers and close all the trucks, so I know the papers were all right when they left here,” he said. He speculates the coating happened somewhere between the Youngstown and Vienna post offices.

Powder used? Culler was initially contacted by the post office to determine whether “Farm and Dairy” used talcum powder or any other powdery substance in the printing or mailing process, which it does not.

The post office investigation determined the substance was chalk used to mark postal bags.

“The papers weren’t held up, and were delivered on time,” said Howard Marsh, “Farm and Dairy” circulation director.

“Right now, we’ve got to take every incident for what it’s worth. The last thing we want is for our readers to get sick or be scared,” he said.

No widespread threat. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States Postal Service has delivered about 30 billion pieces of mail. In that same time, only three pieces were confirmed to be contaminated, according to the Postal Service.

The best tools the public can use to make the mail safe are caution and common sense. The postal service still urges precautions in handling mail, including the following measures:

* Don’t handle a letter or package that you suspect is contaminated.

* Don’t shake it, bump it, or sniff it.

* Wash your hands thoroughly with soap after handling any suspicious pieces of mail.

* Call the proper authorities.

Postal hoaxes. As of Oct. 26, a total of 320 postal facilities were evacuated for varying amounts of time as a result of 7,309 hoaxes, threats and suspicious mailing incidents, which average 593 daily. Postal inspectors have arrested 19 individuals for anthrax-related hoaxes and are continuing to investigate additional hoax cases nationwide.

(You can contact Andrea Myers at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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