The Anthrax Powder Myth

I’m posting here because I don’t know where else to vent my frustration. I’ve already sent 3 emails to a local newspaper but now I see the error on the local television news.

The media keeps on saying things like this:

“The powder was determined to be dairy creamer, not anthrax.”

“It was a false alarm. The powder was only laundry detergent.”

Are you getting my drift? ANTHRAX IS NOT A POWDER!!! The media is continuously implying or outright saying that it IS!! By continously making these false and misleading statements they are misinforming the teeming masses on a very important issue.

In case you’re reading this and don’t understand yourself: Anthrax is INVISIBLE to the naked eye - it CAN be placed in dairy creamer, it CAN be placed in detergent. Just because some white substance is recognisable does not mean that it cannot contain Anthrax.

Anthrax spores are powder. There are techniques, like polymerase chain reaction, that could detect tiny (and certainly harmless) amounts of anthrax DNA in a sample that was almost all non-dairy creamer (or almost any inert powder). If the tests they’re talking about are that sophisticated, then they’re justified in saying that the samples don’t contain anthrax, but I don’t know what kind of tests they’re basing these statements on.

“The Soviet military dumped tons of anthrax powder on Vozrozhdeniya Island in the Aral Sea…” See

More on Vozrozhdeniya Island from today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

There’s also a big feature article on “Anthrax Island” in today’s Daily Telegraph, but as it’s part of the weekend supplement, it isn’t yet available online.

This doesn’t exactly belong because there was no question. But I’ll keep it since we are answering the unasked question “Is anthrax really a powder?”

moderator GQ

Help! I just opened an e-mail with powder all over it! Wait a minute…it’s just dust on my monitor. Never mind.

gathered together would be a fine-grained powder with a definite color and texture, would they not? Powder = dust, IMO.



pow·der (poudr)

  1. A substance consisting of ground, pulverized, or otherwise finely dispersed solid particles.
  2. Any of various preparations in the form of powder, as certain cosmetics and medicines.
  3. An explosive mixture, such as gunpowder.
  4. Light dry snow.


Would not Anthrax meet definition #1? As far as being invisible, that is when it is finely dispersed in the air. I can guarantee you that one ton of Anthrax would be quite visible.

O.K. I was wrong:


“Bioterrorism experts said anthrax can be grown in large batches using routine commercial laboratory equipment. When the bacteria are dried and form tiny protective spores, anthrax turns into a white or beige powder.”

Bah! ATOMS are invisible to the naked eye, but if you put enough of them in the same place, you can see them quite easily.

oh and I’d like to xref this thread: url=“”]What would Anthrax spores look like (in bulk, to the naked eye)

Bah! ATOMS are invisible to the naked eye, but if you put enough of them in the same place, you can see them quite easily.

Have you ever seen a pile of bacteria?:slight_smile: I didn’t think it was possible.

I’ll pull the threads if anyone really wants me to, but a quick search of the word “anthrax” on this messageboard (and in particular of GQ) will provide people with more information than they ever really wanted to know about anthrax.

If the real question is “can anthrax be powderised?”, the answer is “yes”. If the question is “why is anthrax often mixed with powdered agents?”, the answer is (essentially) “to make it more dispersible”. Anthrax has a tendency to “clump” into clusters which are more than 5 microns. Human beings have a wonderful immune system which will often trap particles 5 microns or larger in size in the upper respiratory tract; anthrax is MOST lethal to human beings if it can get past the URT and into the lungs. Ergo, being able to disperse anthrax in a form which reduced its particulates to under 5 microns is a “good” thing from a bio-weaponry point of view.

I’m going to say something here in GQ which is purely opinion, and I hope that the mods will either allow me the latitude to do so or very quickly email me and tell me my comments are out of line.

I get the feeling that one of the reasons why this and many other messageboards are getting so many questions about anthrax ATM is because people are “expert shopping”. By that I mean that although there is a great deal of very accessible information concerning this disease available from extremely credible sources (such as the CDC, defenselink, promedline, etc), some people don’t so much want accurate information as information which will allow them to feel comfortable and support their world view.

Over the past few weeks I have watched a host of “experts” giving radically different “expert” opinions on the viability of a widespread anthrax assault. These opinions have ranged from “you could wipe out the population of Sydney with a single cropduster spray of 100 kg of anthrax over the metropolitan area”, to “anthrax is extremely hard to weaponise and the risk is virtually nil”.

When I seek more detailed information on anthrax, I seek it from the credible sources (and CDC and defenselink are only two of those) which existed prior to these attacks and the legion of hoaxes which have followed them.

This disease is not a new one. This disease has been a problem for primary producers for a very long time. Almost every major Western media organisation now has links on their website to peer-reviewed, scientifically-based information about anthrax. Please, let none of us let our fear get in the way of our commonsense when we are confronted with “tabloid experts”.

The more sensationalist websites have been bumped to the top of search engines like Google ATM, just because they are getting so many hits from people who are scared. So can we all pull together during this and help each other access accurate information?

I’m just as scared as the rest of you about where this world is heading, but the one thing I know for sure is that these terrorists aren’t magicians who have suddenly developed the capability to make what has we’ve always known about anthrax or any other potential biological or chemical weapon irrelevant. Yes Biopreparat, from all we can gather, did manage to genetically engineer an antibiotic resistant strain of anthrax. Logic tells us, that as the people who have been affected by these attacks are responding to antibiotic treatment, whoever is behind this campaign of bio-terrorism doesn’t possess that strain.

We have a lot of highly qualified scientists, biologists, military personnel etc, on this message board. Let’s start trusting them to know a little more about what’s being discussed than the local tabloid paper or the local cable network.

I am SOOO going to get into trouble for this post. But I’m also so willing to wear the twouble I will get into than to see this absolute fear continue.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled GQ thread, with best wishes to all of you for your safety and peace of mind.

If you grow a colony in a petri dish, they are quite visible. See Randi’s latest columns, scroll all the way to the bottom. This is a macroscopic picture (supposedly) of anthrax colonies on some kind of red agar.

[[I am SOOO going to get into trouble for this post. But I’m also so willing to wear the twouble I will get into than to see this absolute fear continue.]]

From whom, Reprise? I agree with you, and thank you for your points. has a fact sheet and many other good links about anthrax. - Jill

From ProMed:

Creating a weapon from anthrax requires that a large number of spores be
grown in the lab, purified, and then combined with a fine powdery substance
that keeps the spores from clumping. The powder also provides a vehicle
that helps keep the spores airborne as long as possible after they are

To be effective as a weapon, the anthrax spores must remain airborne in
sufficient concentration to allow victims to inhale large numbers. At least
8000 spores, and perhaps many more than that, must be inhaled deep into the
lungs to cause disease.

Not a pile, but I’ve seen Bacterial mats which is as good as a ‘pile’ (IMHO).

For the record, my WAG would be that the anthrax ‘powder’ that is being produced for biological warfare will contain other substances (such as remnants of the culture medium and additives simply to make it ‘go further’) .