Suspicious Packages (for Investigation of Agents of) Bioterrorism – RT PCR

Consistent with O. Reg. 671/92 of the French Language Services Act, laboratory testing information on this page is only available in English because it is scientific or technical in nature and is for use only by qualified health care providers and not by members of the public.

Testing Indications

The decision to test a sample for agents of bioterrorism is made by the police in consultation with the local Health Unit.

Prior to sending suspicious packages/materials to Public Health Ontario Laboratory (PHOL), a threat assessment must be carried out by the police/hazmat team to rule out for chemical, radiological, and explosive risks.

Notify Public Health laboratory prior to sample submission. The urgency for testing is made jointly by police, health unit and PHO laboratory.

Specimen Collection and Handling

Specimen Requirements

Test Requested Required Requisition(s) Specimen Type Minimum Volume Collection Kit

BT Investigation

Suspicious powder / Environmental samples

A minimum quantity of material is necessary (no more than a few grams). In the case of a letter or envelope, package the entire item.

Sterile container – triple bagged after collection

Submission and Collection Notes


Environmental swabs are not accepted


Testing is done only at the Toronto laboratory site


Refer to submission guidelines

Storage and Transport

Follow the instructions found in the Suspicious packages for investigation of agents of Bioterrorism” (noted above.)

  • Place the suspected environmental material in the zip lock bag and seal completely
  • Place the zip lock-sealed bag in a 2nd zip lock bag and seal completely
  • Place the double sealed zip lock in a 3rd zip lock bag and seal completely
  • Label the outer zip lock bag: BIOHAZARD
  • Place the triple bagged sample into the airtight container and seal container firmly

Special Instructions

Police must deliver specimen directly to PHO-Toronto Laboratory

Requisitions and Kit Ordering

Test Frequency and Turnaround Time (TAT)

The test is performed on an “as needed” basis 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The Turnaround time for RT-PCR is up to 4-6 hours (or longer depending upon unique situation) and is determined on a case by case basis. TAT may take longer if sample is sent to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg for further testing.

Test Methods

Suspicious packages – Bioterrorism specimens are tested by real time polymerase chain reaction (RT- PCR). Depending on the results, samples may be forwarded to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg for confirmation and/or further testing.


Results are reported to the Medical Officer of Health and law enforcement agency as indicated on the requisition.

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Updated 20 July 2020