Anthrax Anxiety at Top UN Environmental Agency

NAIROBI, Kenya, October 18, 2001 (ENS) - A letter suspected of anthrax contamination was received at the Headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the agency has confirmed. The letter came to the UNEP headquarters in Gigiri, a Nairobi neighborhood.

It has been sent to the Ministry of Health for testing along with several other suspicious packages detected by security staff at UNEP.

UNEP information chief Tore Brevik is among fewer than 10 people in the communications office who were exposed to the letter. "You could say I have been in contact with the letter, yes," he told ENS.

Brevik

Tore Brevik, director, Communications and Public Information, UNEP (Photo courtesy IISD/Linkages)
"We are waiting for the lab tests," Brevik said. "We do not know if a letter delivered here contains any dangerous substances. We will have the test results at 10 am Nairobi time tomorrow morning."

Until now confined to targets in the United States, anthrax terrorist threats may have spread to other parts of the world, although not to any particular high level person. In a press conference today, Brevik told reporters the letter was not sent to a senior level or well known person such as UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer.

Those who were in the vicinity of the letter have been given antibiotics as a precautionary measure. There is a general alertness among the UN staff, because of the international situation, and any suspicious looking mail is handed over to health authorities.

"You cannot take any chance," said Brevik, a Norwegian who has been 13 years in Nairobi handling communications for the United Nations.

"I can tell you this is very important," he said. "All the staff here is briefed. They are given a lot of information. It is a calm situation, there is no panic or people being worried about it because it has been well handled by our executive director, Klaus Toepfer."

A statement issued by Kenya's Ministry of Public Health did not confirm the presence or absence of anthrax at UNEP but said, "Following latest confirmed reports of possible anthrax threat to Kenya, the Minister for Public Health Professor Sam Ongeri will tomorrow address a crucial press conference at Afya House."