- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 27, 2001

Anthrax spores were found yesterday at a second D.C. post office and at mail-handling centers serving the U.S. Supreme Court and the Central Intelligence Agency, as federal officials scrambled to contain the potentially deadly bacteria.

Investigators said the latest discoveries could mean there are more poisoned letters in circulation or that an anthrax-laced letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle could have tainted others.

All three federal agencies where spores were found yesterday get their mail from the Brentwood Road Mail Processing Center in the District, where four postal workers became infected with inhalation anthrax earlier this week and where Mr. Daschle's letter was processed more than a week ago.

In addition, trace amounts of anthrax spores were found yesterday in three lawmakers' offices in the Longworth House Office Building, U.S. Capitol Police Lt. Dan Nichols said last night. The three are Democratic Reps. John Baldacci of Maine and Rush D. Holt of New Jersey and Republican Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana. The building receives mail that is processed by a machine where anthrax had previously been found.

So far, anthrax has killed three persons nationwide, two of them D.C. postal workers who worked at the Brentwood Road Mail Processing Center in Northeast. One of them, Joseph P. Curseen Jr. will be buried today; the other, Thomas Morris Jr., was buried yesterday. Three others two Brentwood postal workers and a State Department mail handler have inhalation anthrax.

Eleven others, including journalists in New York and postal workers in New Jersey, have contracted skin anthrax, a highly treatable form of the disease. As of last night, there were 14 confirmed cases of anthrax infections nationwide.

Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said it was "highly unlikely" that the State Department mail handler may have come into contact with mail that was tainted as it passed through the now-closed Brentwood facility.

The infected State Department mail handler, who worked in Sterling, Va., had not been through the facility at Brentwood.

That meant the 59-year-old man encountered a letter that was tainted by the Daschle letter or that he came into contact with a poisoned letter that officials have yet to discover.

"There just wouldn't be enough infectious material from cross-contamination to do that," Dr. Koplan said in a telephone press conference. "Without an incriminating letter in hand, my working assumption would be there is such a letter somewhere that this person was exposed to."

As investigators discovered traces of anthrax at mail facilities for the CIA and U.S. Supreme Court, President Bush announced that the search for anthrax at postal facilities has been expanded to include hundreds of sites.

"I want to assure postal workers that our government is testing more than 200 postal facilities along the entire eastern corridor that may have been impacted," he said. "And we will move quickly to treat and protect workers where positive exposures are found."

The developments in Washington lent a new urgency to response plans being implemented in the District and in neighboring communities.

Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III ordered the state to open three regional treatment sites where concerned Virginia mailroom workers can get a 10-day supply of the antibiotic Cipro.

The treatment sites are at the Fairfax County Government Center, the Prince William Health Department and the Loudoun County Health Department, and those sites will be open beginning today from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

In Maryland, health officials said yesterday they would offer antibiotics to mailroom employees of at least 126 federal offices. Baltimore Health Commissioner Peter Beilenson said his department would be making antibiotics available for mailroom employees at up to 25 federal offices in the city. The city is already issuing Cipro to workers at private companies who received mail from Brentwood.

The medical community's understanding of the dangers of the deadly bacteria is evolving daily, Dr. Anne Peterson, Virginia's health commissioner, told The Washington Times. Dr. Peterson said health officials have acknowledged that people might be more susceptible to inhalation infections than originally thought.

Medical authorities had thought it takes at least 8,000 to 10,000 spores to cause the most deadly form of the disease inhalation anthrax but the recent cases indicate a much smaller amount could lead to an infection.

"We initially thought that there would have to be that many spores to cause inhalation anthrax, but obviously we have never dealt with terrorists who might make the germ more potent," she said.

Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said the anthrax in the Daschle letter was highly concentrated and made "to be more easily absorbed" by its victims.

ABC News, meanwhile, reported that tests on the anthrax sent to Mr. Daschle found a chemical additive called bentonite that keeps the spores airborne a trademark of Iraq's biological-weapons program. The White House denied the report.

Dr. Peterson said the three persons who are now hospitalized in serious condition and the release from a hospital of a Florida man who was infected with the disease could indicate that the disease may be more treatable than expected.

Also yesterday, the Defense Department parked six biological-weapons detectors outside the Pentagon.

Traces of anthrax were detected yesterday at two mailrooms at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Northwest, just a day after the bacteria was detected at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring. Anthrax also was detected at an off-site White House mailing facility earlier this week. Thirteen workers there were being treated for possible exposure.

Anthrax was found on an air filter taken from the Supreme Court's off-site mailing facility, which is several miles away from the courthouse itself. Some 400 people work in the building. Traces also were found at the CIA's material-inspection facility located on the agency's campus in the Langley area of Fairfax. Officials have said the amount found was "medically insignificant" and that no suspicious letters or packages had been found at the facility.

As investigators continued to search for clues in the investigation, Postal Service officials shut down the post office at 45 B St. SW after spores were found in a mail-handling case. The post office was just one of the 35, besides Brentwood, that tested positive for traces. Test results are still pending on 14 other city post offices.

Meanwhile, health officials said between 2,000 and 4,000 mail workers at businesses throughout the city will be tested for anthrax, and they urged all to get the antibiotics. As many as 6,000 people could be affected by the latest announcement.

So far, more than 9,000 people in the Washington area have been treated to ward off any possible exposure to anthrax.

The latest findings of spores in mailing facilities in New York and Washington have led some postal workers union officials to demand that postal facilities in Florida, New York, New Jersey and Washington be closed until they can be tested for anthrax contamination.

"If it's possible to close down Congress and test there for bacteria, they should close down this building, too," said William Smith, a union local president in New York City, where anthrax was found on four machines at a Manhattan sorting center Thursday.

Beside Washington and New York, anthrax has been found at four mail centers in Florida and one in New Jersey. The Washington, New Jersey and Florida facilities were closed for decontamination, and the Florida ones have since reopened.

Locally, postal union officials said they are investigating why postal workers from Brentwood weren't tested or treated for exposure until last Sunday, when a worker was diagnosed with inhalation anthrax.

But "we have no intention of shutting down any facilities unless we have to and have no intention of going on strike," said Patricia Johnson, president of the local postal union.

•Dave Boyer and Bill Sammon contributed to this article, which in part is based on wire service reports.

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