Archive for Monday, October 29, 2001

Anthrax discovered at facility that handles mail for Justice Department

October 29, 2001


— The Centers for Disease Control and prevention confirmed Sunday that a female New Jersey postal worker has inhalation anthrax, and the Justice Department said the microbe has been discovered at an offsite facility that processes its mail.

CDC spokesman Tom Skinner stressed that the incident in New Jersey, involving the most serious form of the disease, was not a new case but rather one that had been listed as suspected. Lab tests confirmed the diagnosis, he said. Three people have died from inhaled anthrax.

At least five New Jersey postal workers have suspected or confirmed cases of anthrax. Anthrax-tainted letters sent to Washington and New York originated there.

Tests continued at postal and government offices in the nation's capital and elsewhere. Officials were seeking to determine whether other tainted letters are in the mail system.

Sunday night, the Justice Department revealed that several locations in a suburban Maryland postal facility that processes its mail tested positive for anthrax.

Spokeswoman Susan Dryden said samples from a variety of locations within the Landover, Md., facility showed the presence of anthrax, including locations that handle mail for Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft and Deputy Atty. Gen. Larry Thompson.

Dryden said mailrooms within the Justice Department have been tested for anthrax, and results are expected by Tuesday.

Department employees who handle mail or who are in frequent contact with mail facilities in the building were contacted and asked to get antibiotics, she said. Dryden said mail delivery to the Justice Department was suspended several days ago.

At the Supreme Court, spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said about 400 court employees and others were tested for possible exposure to anthrax Friday and Saturday. Those tested were given six-day supplies of the antibiotic doxycycline. Depending on whether test results reveal any contamination of the court's main building, some of those 400 may be given 60-day supplies of the drug, she said.

Tests on the building began Friday night and continued through the weekend. Results were not available by Sunday night, Arberg said.

"There may be other letters that are stuck in the system," White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said on "Fox News Sunday." We're asking people to be very careful."

Card disputed a Washington Post report that investigators believe that the mailings were the work of a domestic terrorist. "The FBI and the CIA have different schools of thought within each agency," he told NBC. "We are working very hard with very little evidence."

Reports of suspicious letters and hoax calls have been pouring into the Postal Service at a rate of about 600 a day. There are only about 2,000 postal inspectors nationwide to handle the calls and to continue the anthrax investigation with the FBI.

Despite the strain on the system, postal vice president Deborah Willhite vowed the mail will go through.

"We're coming up to the first of the month and a lot of people are very dependent upon the movement of mail, receiving and sending of financial instruments is a vital public service," she said. "The Postal Service will rise to that duty."

On Capitol Hill, the Hart Senate Office Building was to remain closed today but the garage it shares with the adjacent Dirksen building was scheduled to reopen along with other Senate offices. On the House side, the Ford and Longworth office buildings were closed thorough the weekend. Whether they would reopen today was unclear.

The Hart building is home to the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who received a letter containing a highly potent form of anthrax three weeks ago, marking the start of the anthrax scare in the nation's capital.

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