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 Ontario Laboratory Requisition for Submission of Suspicious Packages/Materials for Investigation of Agents of Bioterrorism.


  • 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)
  • 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 bag 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 Submission of Suspicious Packages/Materials for Investigation of Agents of Bioterrorism

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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Contact Laboratory Customer Service

Laboratory Services

Updated 23 June 2023