Minnesota Department of Health dispels rumors regarding powder found in courthouse

Law enforcement officials in Pine County, Minnesota, said on Friday that the county courthouse received six letters that contained an unknown powdery substance on Nov. 19.

The letters were transported to the Minnesota Department of Health Public Health Laboratory, and tests eliminated the possibility of the unknown substance containing bioterrorism organisms.

Additional tests identified the substance as Bacillus bacteria, but the laboratory was unable to determine if the strain was Bacillus thuringiensis or Bacillus cereus. MDH said both bacteria occur naturally in the area and they are closely related.

Neither bacterium is considered a significant health risk. Bacillus thuringiensis has not shown negative health effects when studied. Bacillus cereus may cause foodborne illness symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting. It can also cause eye irritation if the exposed person has an eye injury.

People who were inside the Pine County Courthouse when the affected letters arrived were encouraged to see their doctor if they developed any symptoms and to reduce the risk of exposure to themselves and anyone they came in contact with by immediately showering and washing their clothes. No other recommendations were made.

The Public Health Laboratory investigates suspicious packages or envelopes several times a year, usually under conditions of law enforcement investigations. MDH said officials would release more information in approximately two weeks when final test results of the substance are available.