- The Washington Times - Monday, October 29, 2001

Government officials fear other anthrax-laced letters are "stuck in the system," as mail-handling facilities in 11 states were being checked yesterday.
"Our Postal Service, the FBI, are working very hard to understand all they can," White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said on "Fox News Sunday."
"There may be other letters that are stuck in the system, at the Capitol or maybe down at the White House," Mr. Card said. "We're asking people to be very careful. I have no reason to believe that our Postal Service is in jeopardy by delivering mail. But we are being very sensitive about those places where anthrax has been found."
A facility that handles mail for the Justice Department has tested positive for anthrax, a department spokeswoman said last night.
Samples from a variety of locations within the Landover facility showed the presence of anthrax, spokeswoman Susan Dryden said. The locations included areas that handle mail for Attorney General John Ashcroft, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and other departmental leaders.
Mail for the Justice Department is processed first at the Brentwood mail facility in the District, which is now closed, before being sent to Landover.
The Justice Department's in-house mail facilities stopped receiving mail from the Landover facility several days ago as a precaution. At this point, no other Justice Department facility has tested positive for anthrax, Miss Dryden said.
The Landover facility handles mail for the Justice Department and some of its component agencies, but not the FBI, Miss Dryden said.
Mailrooms within the department have been tested for anthrax, Miss Dryden said, and the results are expected this week. The department's mailroom, located in the basement, has been closed.
Investigators on Saturday widened the scope of their search for the germ to 30 mail facilities along the East Coast and in other parts of the country amid fears that other tainted pieces of mail are in circulation.
These states include Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Illinois, Florida, Georgia, Arizona, New York and New Jersey.
The local facilities being tested are the Merrifield post office in Fairfax, the Gaithersburg post office and the Baltimore post office. Test results were still pending last night.
Deputy Postmaster General John M. Nolan said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that there are many theories among investigators about how many more tainted letters were in the sacks of mail handled by the centers. But, he said, "I don't have any way of knowing."
Anthrax spores were found last week at the Brentwood Mail Processing Center in Northeast, where a contaminated letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle was processed earlier this month.
Since then, two Brentwood postal workers Thomas Morris Jr. of Suitland, and Joseph Curseen Jr. of Clinton have died from inhalation anthrax and two others are in serious condition with the same form of the disease at Inova Fairfax Hospital.
Meanwhile, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said cross-contamination alone could not be making people as sick as they are.
Health specialists made that conclusion after a State Department mailroom employee, who had not visited the contaminated Brentwood post office in Northeast, contracted inhalation anthrax. The employee worked at the department's off-site facility in Sterling, some 40 miles away from the District.
"This is not cross-contamination," said Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, CDC director. "It just wouldn't be enough material, infectious material from cross-contamination to [cause inhalation anthrax]."
Dr. Koplan said "multiple" contaminated mailings probably have gone out, but so far none has been found at the State Department's off-site mailroom in Sterling.
"Here's an instance where we have an ill person, but no letter in hand at the moment," Dr. Koplan said. "[But] there's no reason to think now that an amount of anthrax spores [from] an adjacent letter, or a pile of letters" could be cross-contaminated from a tainted letter in "a dose sufficient to cause inhalation anthrax."
Also yesterday, a New Jersey postal worker was diagnosed with inhalation anthrax, the 15th confirmed infection nationwide. Seven of the 15 cases are skin infections, the highly treatable form of the disease. At least 10,000 postal workers and mailroom workers at federal agencies and private businesses are being treated for possible exposure.
In Trenton, at least 35 firefighters began taking antibiotics for anthrax after one of them became sick with a suspicious respiratory illness. Preliminary test results were positive for anthrax exposure, but doctors were waiting for more results last night.
No new cases of anthrax were reported in the Washington area yesterday.
D.C. health officials yesterday urged anyone who received an initial 10-day supply of antibiotics last week to return to D.C. General Hospital for an additional 50-day supply. The hospital treatment center will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. today through Friday.
The New Jersey female postal employee, whose name was not released, works at the state's Hamilton regional processing center, which processed at least three contaminated letters sent to Mr. Daschle, NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw and the New York Post.
Officials said they believe the New Jersey postal worker was infected by the Daschle letter, before it made its way to the Brentwood post office in the District.
The Hart Senate Office Building, where spores were found last week, will remain closed today, but the garage it shares with the Dirksen Senate Office Building was expected to reopen today.
The Postal Service repeated yesterday that mail will still be delivered despite the anthrax scares. On Friday, the Postal Service signed a $40 million contract to buy eight electron-beam devices to sanitize letters and packages. The equipment, normally used to sterilize hospital equipment, will first be used in the District. Until then, some 68 tons of mail are being sent to a plant in Lima, Ohio, to be decontaminated by the electron beams.
Mr. Card said on "Fox News Sunday" yesterday the government is doing everything it can to contain the outbreak. The Bush administration has come under fire among D.C. postal workers who were not tested for nearly a week after the Daschle letter was received.
"It's very unfortunate that we've had any deaths as a result of terrorist activities," Mr. Card said. "But I think our government is working very well."
Meanwhile, several U.S. Supreme Court justices all taking antibiotics for possible anthrax exposure attended the annual Red Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Northwest, where Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the archbishop of Washington, prayed for the victims of the recent terrorist attacks, including the two D.C. postal workers who died last week.
"We pray for the heroic police and firefighters, rescue workers and postal workers who gave so much of themselves to save as many people as they could and to give us a sense of security and safety through their own valiant and generous offering of themselves," Cardinal McCarrick said in his homily.
Among those who attended the Mass were Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Stephen G. Breyer. D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez.
The Supreme Court for the first time in 66 years will hear cases in a ceremonial courtroom of the U.S. Court of Appeals today because anthrax spores were found in the off-site mailroom on Friday.
In an interview with The Washington Times after the service, Cardinal McCarrick sent a message to those responsible for spreading disease and death through the mail.
"You are your own worst enemy," the cardinal said. "If you spend your life in hatred, you're going to devour yourself and ruin any happiness."
This story is based in part on wire service reports.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide