Florida justice center receives hoax anthrax letter

Authorities in Largo, Florida, have determined that an envelope of white powder delivered to the Pinellas County Justice Center on December 16 did not contain anthrax.

No one was harmed in the incident, but testing is still underway to determine the chemical composition of the substance, according to TampaBay.com.

The envelope was mailed to a local judge and opened by an assistant, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department. Deputies said they are taking the matter very seriously and are conducting a criminal investigation to find the substance’s origin and who sent it.

After the assistant was exposed to the powder, the area was evacuated, TampaBay.com reports. Neither the judge to whom the letter was mailed, nor the assistant, were identified.

The Tampa Bay area saw several similar cases during the anthrax scare of 2001, when anthrax filled letters were sent to government offices in several states, including Florida. No anthrax was found locally.

Anthrax is caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis. Most forms of the disease are lethal and it can affect humans as well as animals. Anthrax is considered to be one of the more effective biological weapons in existence. Anthrax can be contracted in three forms - pulmonary, gastrointestinal and cutaneous.