Bioterrorism and Suspicious Packages

Guidelines for Submission

The decision to test a sample for agents of bioterrorism is made by the police in consultation with the local public health units. All suspicious packages presenting a bioterrorism threat are also treated as legal specimens. Since these materials may become part of a criminal trial, a complete record of the chain of custody is required.

Sample Collection

Prior to submission of any sample, contact PHO’s Bioresponse Team (BT).

  • Business Hours (8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., Monday to Friday)
    • Bioresponse Hotline: 647-792-3378 
    • Customer Service Centre: 416-235-6556 or toll-free:1-877-604-4567
  • After-Hours, Weekends and Holidays
    • BT After-Hours Responder: 416-524-0414
    • Alternate Duty Officer: 416-605-3113

Ensure collection and packaging complies with the guidelines in Suspicious Packages/Material for the Investigation of Agents of Bioterrorism: Guidelines for Submission.

Each submission must be accompanied by a Public Health Requisition for Submitting Environmental Samples for Laboratory Testing. Please see the Test Requisition for Submitting Environmental Samples Form.


  • Suspicious packages are transported to PHO’s laboratory - Toronto by the Law Enforcement Agency or their delegate. The Law Enforcement Agency or delegate maintains chain of custody during transport.


  • PHO’s laboratory - Toronto is located at 661 University Ave. Suspicious packages are received through the Shipping and Receiving Dock.

Sample Receipt

Upon arrival at the shipping and receiving dock:

  • Business hours (8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., Monday to Friday)
    • Call Customer Service Centre at 416-235-6556/1-877-604-4567 and a BT member will attend to receive the package, examine it to determine that it is properly packaged (see procedure for packaging below) and ensure that a specimen submission requisition form (Test Requisition for Submitting Environmental Samples Form) has been completed.
    • The submitter and the BT member will complete and sign the sample submission label and affix it to the back of the specimen submission requisition form.
    • The BT member will sign the submitter’s form to acknowledge receipt of the package.
  • After-hours, weekends and holidays
    • Samples for after-hours testing will be accepted only if they are deemed urgent. Prior approval from PHO must be obtained before the sample is sent for testing.
    • PHO will advise on the process of sample delivery at the time of approval for testing.

Protocol for Submitting Environmental Samples for Laboratory Testing

Packaging Material Required

  • three zip lock bags per specimen
  • duct tape
  • permanent marker
  • Chain of Custody form

Procedure for Packaging

  • Place the suspected environmental material in the zip lock bag and seal completely.
  • Place the zip lock-sealed envelope in a second zip lock bag and seal completely.
  • Place the double sealed zip lock in a third zip lock bag and seal completely.
  • Label the outer zip lock bag: BIOHAZARD.
  • Spray outer bag with 1% bleach. Let it sit for 10 minutes before wiping it off.
  • Complete the Chain of Custody form and place it around the container with a rubber band.
  • Tape test requisition form to the outside bag – Do not use staples.

Sample Size/Number

  • A single sample of suspicious material per incident is adequate.
  • A minimal amount of material is necessary – no more than a few grams - however, there should be a visible amount of material collected. Avoid submitting other incident-related materials, such as letters or envelopes.

Responsibility for Transport

  • Local law enforcement is responsible for arranging for specimen transport.


Test Requisition for Submitting Environmental Samples

Sample Submission Label

Attach to the back of the Test Requisition for Submitting Environmental Samples Form.

image of a sample bioterrorism submission label

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Laboratory Services

Updated 19 June 2019