- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 21, 2001

Traces of anthrax were found yesterday in a House office building that processes mail for lawmakers, the first evidence of anthrax contamination on the House side of the Capitol.
The anthrax was found in a bundling machine inside the Ford Office Building, three blocks from the Capitol. The machine processes mail for the Longworth Office Building, according to a joint statement from House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat.
The Longworth Building is where Mr. Gephardt and more than 100 other House members have their offices.
"All other bundling machine tests are negative. Because of the suspension of mail delivery, it is not known whether any affected mail was delivered," the House leaders said in their joint statement.
The anthrax sample in the Ford Office Building mailroom turned up during a precautionary "environmental sampling" of the entire Capitol complex, ordered last week after an anthrax-laced letter, postmarked Trenton, N.J., was opened in the offices of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
So far, 28 Capitol Hill employees most of them Daschle staffers have tested positive for exposure to the anthrax bacteria in what's being called a case of bioterrorism. Initially, 31 persons were said to be exposed, but three were removed from the list following more complete testing, officials said yesterday.
The latest anthrax discovery on the Hill came as Mayor Anthony A. Williams announced at a press conference that a D.C. postal worker has been hospitalized, possibly due to exposure to anthrax. However, a federal health official, who also took part in the press conference, said initial tests on the man had proved negative for anthrax.
"A gentleman out at Fairfax Hospital is now being treated. There is a possible situation. The Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] is now out there monitoring the situation and tests are being done," Mr. Williams said.
"There's reason to believe there's a threat there that has to be managed," Mr. Williams said. He said the man worked at the Brentwood facility, which handled mail that went to the Capitol.
D.C. Health Director Ivan Walks declined to identify the patient. "But his clinical picture makes us suspicious," he said. The man checked into the Virginia hospital Friday night and is reported to be suffering from flu-like symptoms.
However, Dr. Rita Khabbaz of the CDC told reporters: "I can't tell you this is going to be a case of anthrax at this point." She said the man is "clinically stable."
Also yesterday, about 150 FBI agents and postal inspectors swarmed a New Jersey postal route in search of the mailbox where someone may have deposited letters containing anthrax that were sent to Mr. Daschle and to NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw. A Trenton letter carrier has contracted anthrax, and investigators are searching homes, apartments and businesses along her route for clues.
The FBI has traced two anthrax-tainted letters to a single mail sorting box in a postal facility in New Jersey, Special Agent Sandra Carroll told Associated Press. FBI agents also removed at least one mailbox along the ailing mail carrier's route, but they would not discuss its location or type.
Also, a letter mailed to the New York Post has tested positive for anthrax and is similar to the anthrax-laced letters sent to Mr. Brokaw and Mr. Daschle, police said late yesterday.
The letter addressed to the "Editor" at the Post was postmarked Sept. 18 the same day as the letter sent to Mr. Brokaw. The postmark said it came from Trenton, N.J., like the letters to Mr. Brokaw and Mr. Daschle. The letter to Mr. Daschle was postmarked Oct. 9.
In a news release, Joe Valiquette of the FBI and Thomas Antenen of the New York City police said the handwriting on the Post letter is similar to that found on the two other letters.
Nationally, eight persons have contracted anthrax, including a Florida man who died, and 37 others have tested positive for exposure to the bacteria. Yet, all those who have been exposed or ill are receiving antibiotics and are expected to recover.
As for the discovery of anthrax in the Ford Office Building, hazardous waste specialists doing environmental sampling took swabs in the facility Wednesday but did not get results until yesterday.
At this point, said Lt. Dan Nichols, Capitol Police spokesman, "it's too early for anyone to draw any conclusions. We don't know if there is another letter [tainted with anthrax that's been sent to Congress] or if this is cross-contamination" from the letter to Mr. Daschle.
At a news conference yesterday, Mr. Nichols explained that all mail to Congress initially goes to an off-site center, located several miles away, where it's separated for the House and the Senate.
Dr. John Eisold, the Capitol physician, who also spoke at the news conference, said employees who work in the Ford Office Building mailroom will be tested for exposure to the bacteria and will be put on antibiotics.
In a telephone conversation with CDC officials just before the press conference, Dr. Eisold said it was decided there would be no screening beyond those people who work in that particular mailroom.
He was unable to say how many employees would be affected, nor did he know if the bacillus detected in the bundling machine is the same as that found in the letter to Mr. Daschle.
"We have tested over 4,000 people [on Capitol Hill] and have found no further positive findings, other than what we have reported. At this point, none of the people who demonstrated exposure have become symptomatic all 28 are very healthy," the Capitol physician said.
Dr. Eisold added it's been a "great asset" for those searching for anthrax in Capitol Hill buildings that the House and Senate office buildings were shut down Thursday and Friday.
The House received some criticism when it decided to close down operations last Wednesday to allow for anthrax testing.
"The goal now is for the Senate to come back Monday and the House on Tuesday," Lt. Nichols said.
John Feehery, spokesman for Mr. Hastert, said later the House does intend to convene Tuesday. The meeting place could be somewhere other than the House chamber, he said, but added that he believes relocation is unlikely.
The Ford building is the third Capitol Hill site where anthrax has been discovered. Mr. Daschle's office, where it was first confirmed, is located in the Hart Senate Office Building. The bacteria were subsequently identified in a mail center across the street from the Hart building.
Yesterday on CNN, Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat, said she was not surprised to learn that anthrax was also found in a House office building. "I expected anthrax to show up on the House side we will probably find more," she said.
But Mrs. Waters said it would be "foolish" for the House to return to work Tuesday if more anthrax is found in House offices.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide