White powder scares on the rise in Florida

Hazmat teams in Palm Beach County have responded to at least six calls in the past three months to determine if white powder found in letters, envelopes and even on an airplane contained anthrax.

While recent local incidents involving white powder appear to signal an increase in these type of incidents, the number has remained constant at approximately 300 incidents per year nationally since 2008, according to statistics from the FBI. Recent incidents have occurred at the state attorney's office and the home of Vice President Joe Biden's brother, the Palm Beach Post reports.

"The ones recently are a little more high-­profile," Ray Carter, the Boynton Beach fire rescue chief, said, according to the Palm Beach Post. "So they attract a little more attention. People have their guard up and they should, rightfully so, because you never know when that white powder is going to be something significant."

While a few of the incidents are deliberate threats or hoaxes, most of them are harmless and unintended.

"Sometimes they're marketing mailers sending out a sample of some type of free product to people and it happens to be a light powder," Mark Anderson, a battalion chief with Palm Beach County Fire Rescue, said, according to the Palm Beach Post. "And there you have a white powder and nobody knows how it got there."

The public began reporting white powder everywhere and hoaxers began taking advantage after the October 5, 2001, anthrax attack that left the Boca Raton-based American Media Inc. photo editor Bob Stevens dead.

"That became the next type of threat you could do," Allan Ortman, the director of West Palm Beach's Division of Emergency Management, said, according to the Palm Beach Post. "It's become the new bomb threat."

Authorities are hopeful that the reports of white powder will decline as the public learns how to take precautions when carrying powdery substances.

"Whether it be coffee creamer, talcum powder, baby powder, just use common sense," Capt. Don DeLucia, a spokesman for the county fire-rescue department, said, the Palm Beach Post reports.