Be aware of suspicious mail


On August 31, 2020, EH&S sent an email to biological researchers warning them to be aware of suspicious mail. Our local FBI shared with us reports of threatening mail being sent to COVID-19 researchers on the east coast of the U.S. Several local and national media outlets have since published news stories based on the email. The original email is included below.

The email was sent to principal investigators (PIs) who have a current Biological Use Authorization (BUA) for work with biohazards. If you have a BUA but did not receive the email, please check your spam or clutter folders. Be sure to add as a contact so communications from EH&S Biological Safety do not get filed as spam.

Please reach out to EH&S Research and Occupational Safety 206.221.7770 if you have any questions.

Dear UW research community,

We have received unfortunate reports from our contacts at the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) that threatening mail has been sent to COVID-19 researchers on the east coast of the United States. The mail did contain an unknown substance that has not yet been identified as a hazardous substance; however, confirmatory testing to identify the substance is not yet complete.

The health and safety of UW researchers and our UW community is our highest priority. If you receive any suspicious mail or package at work or at home:

  1. Do NOT open the mail or package. Do not handle the item. Wash hands thoroughly if you did handle the item.
  2. Move others away from the suspicious item.
  3. Contact the police by calling 911.
  4. Follow the directions of the police. Avoid creating panic.
  5. Notify the UW Environmental Health & Safety Department (EH&S) Research and Occupational Safety section at 206-221-7770. Also submit an online incident report at UW OARS. EH&S will notify the FBI and other regulatory and law enforcement groups in coordination with the local law enforcement agency.

Suspicious mail may have:

  • Excessive postage
  • Excessive tape
  • An address with misspelled words, badly typed or handwritten, and addressed to a title and not a person
  • No return address
  • Restrictive markings such as “special delivery” or “personal”
  • Oily stains, discoloration, or a strange odor
  • Be rigid or bulky, lopsided or uneven, or have a weight that seems odd for its size.

Also refer to this Suspicious Mail Poster from the United States Postal Service.