BALTIMORE, MARYLAND—More than two years after the US anthrax letter attacks, the standard testing procedures for detecting the disease on indoor surfaces remain unreliable and unproven, according to two scientists who have studied the problem. The likely inaccuracy of those methods may leave the nation unable to determine the extent of contamination should another attack occur, they said at the annual American Society of Microbiology (ASM) Biodefense research meeting in Baltimore today (March 9).

Robert Hamilton, a professor of pathology and medicine at Johns Hopkins, and Barry Skolnick, an independent technical analyst, found that many of the technical details of the three basic methods used in the Senate office building and a Connecticut postal facility in 2001 and 2002 are ad hoc and not based on science. “That need not have been the case,” Skolnick said.

The three techniques call for swabbing, wiping, or vacuuming the surface, then transferring the...

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