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Homefront Adviser: Terror Takings 

Matthews company markets home anthrax detection test

With the Christmas shopping season almost upon us, you better know I've already started making out my wish list. And what's at the top? DVD player? Mountain bike? Nope. What I really want -- Santa, I hope you're listening -- is my very own anthrax home testing kit.

As luck would have it, Vital Living, Inc. is coming out with just such an item. As a matter of fact, it should be on the shelves by Thanksgiving! That's right, for only about $25 you'll soon be able to purchase a handy "PurTest Anthrax Home Test," which will allow you to test for anthrax bacteria in the air, on mail, or in the water.

Donald Podrebarac, president and CEO of the Matthews-based company, which produces water testing and treatment kits, announced recently that "Because of the increase in reported cases and number of locations finding anthrax, the need for our test in the marketplace continues to grow. This early detection test will help people better protect themselves and their family against bioterrorism."

The first anthrax-testing product ever available to the public, "PurTest" will be sold primarily over the counter at pharmacies. Essentially, the test works by first combining special chemicals and water in an open bottle, which is left open to collect particles from the air. If anthrax bacteria are present, it will cause the chemicals to change color. Vital Living began developing the anthrax kits shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The company recently announced that Michigan-based Meijer Inc. will sell the kits in the pharmacies of its 152 stores in five states.

Although Prodrebarac has called the tests "very, very accurate," they are not regulated by any government agency, and health officials including the Environmental Protection Agency have expressed concerns that such tests may give false readings and create unnecessary panic.

"Any home-based or field-based tests have significant false-positive and false-negative readings," said Dr. Michael Hudson, a professor of biology at UNC-Charlotte. "Any claims that these kind of tests are reliable are nonsense. The point has been made that even the tests used by hazardous materials teams are not very accurate. They have to send samples to a laboratory for further analysis, which takes several days. That's the only way to be truly accurate." Vital Living's Donald Prodrebarac did not return phone calls for this story.

Hudson says aside from product reliability, there's also the issue of capitalizing on people's fear. "I'm afraid this is unfortunately a case of someone who is going to make a lot of money because people are really nervous," Hudson said. Last week it was reported that Vital Living's stock price jumped from 82 cents to $1.97 the day the company announced PurTest.

PurTest is by no means the only company selling products related to the anthrax scare. A company called Coast to Coast Safety based in Long Beach, CA recently announced the "Mailroom Respiratory Kit For Biological Terrorism Response." For $29.95, you can get the large kit, which includes a respirator mask, a pair of safety goggles, and two pairs of gloves for each day for a month. A smaller kit for $9.95 is for single use when one must contend with a suspicious package.

Of course, several anthrax-related protection devices and miracle cures have already found their way to the Internet. Numerous Web sites have popped up offering the anti-anthrax drug of choice Cipro at exorbitant prices. One site, registered on October 14, sells only 48-tablet boxes of Cipro for $250 -- including $25 for shipping and handling. At other sites, the going rate is $120 for six pills -- a three-day supply. One site which was traced back to the UK recently sent out a message promising users that they could "Learn how to make yourself immune to ANTHRAX and other BIOLOGICAL ATTACKS. . .Forward this message to five friends and five loved ones to help spread the word. You must begin as soon as possible." Visitors were urged to buy a supply of colloidal silver -- $59 for 4 ounces. There were accompanying claims that it kills "100 percent of all one celled microorganisms. . .including anthrax." Some Net users have been spammed by a company offering a $10 monthly subscription to the Terrorism Alert Service. "We are the public service reporting agency that provides our subscribers with IMMEDIATE E-Mail Alerts of genuine credible threats of terrorism affecting Americans, domestic and abroad," the offer states.

By the way, for those interested, I'll soon be announcing plans for "Meteor Alert 5000," a high-tech falling meteor home detection kit. For just $29.99, this little beauty will alert you and your family to any giant space rocks hurtling towards your home. The "Super Meteor Deflecting Umbrella" will cost extra. Also in the works, a rampaging elephant home detection and repellant kit. *

Word To The Wise By Sam Boykin

A couple of companies have decided to piggyback on the continued popularity and success of Creative Loafing's annual "Best Of Charlotte" issues. American Registry, based in New Jersey, and Custom Lamination Inc, of Garner, NC, are both offering many of C's "Best Of Charlotte" winners -- and sometimes even non-winners -- wooden plaques complete with reproductions of this year's Best Of Charlotte cover. Both companies charge about $100 for the plaques, and American Registry even sends the plaque unsolicited, explaining that "We realize that you didn't order the plaque. However, with today's hectic business environment, our customers have told us that the best way to demonstrate our quality and workmanship is to allow them to review the products firsthand."

While we can't attest to the quality and workmanship, someone ought to be a little more diligent in their research and spelling. Several local businesses, which weren't even named in the Best Of Charlotte issue, have received mailers from these companies asking if they'd like a plaque to commemorate their award. At least one of the plaques sent by American Registry to a local business (which, by the way, didn't even win an award this year), spelled Restaurants "Resturants."

Creative Loafing does not endorse these companies' products and, in fact, aren't real happy about the whole thing.

The Homefront AdviserOsama and Da BombBy Andisheh Nouraee

I've heard a lot about Osama bin Laden's nuclear aspirations. How easy is it to get a nuclear weapon?

It's a widely held fear among defense analysts that the former Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal is not completely accounted for -- and that it's possible for someone like Osama bin Laden to actually purchase a Russian nuke.

To look into that rather troubling issue, I first sat down in front of my computer and gave myself 15 minutes to try to buy a nuclear weapon online. The closest I got was on eBay, where I found a 70-pound slab of pitchblende, a mineral that contains radioactive uranium, on sale for $20,000. But unless you plan on hitting someone over the head with it, you can't make it into a weapon.

But fanatical, murderous multi-millionaires with international terrorist networks might have better luck getting their hands on working nukes than newspaper columnists with check cards.

Our government believes bin Laden has been trying to obtain nukes for years, and that several attempts by his agents to illegally purchase Russian nukes have been foiled since the early 1990s.

The bad news: Some reports indicate that bin Laden already has obtained nuclear weapons and/or nuclear materials. At least two claim that bin Laden operatives bought nuclear suitcase weapons from Chechen rebels in Russia for $30 million plus $700 million in heroin. (Perhaps the airline industry's knack for separating people from their luggage is now a national security asset.) And just last week, The Times in London reported that Western intelligence sources believe bin Laden's network has obtained nuclear materials from Pakistan.

The good news is that even if bin Laden -- or any other terrorist, for that matter -- obtained nuclear materials, it doesn't mean they'll be using them on us anytime soon. Iraq's Saddam Hussein has been trying to build a nuclear arsenal since the 1970s and thus far has failed. It's reasonable to think that, unless bin Laden has, in fact, been able to purchase working nuclear weapons, he'll be less successful than Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately, some sources believe he's done just that.

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