- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 30, 2001

Anthrax contamination yesterday spread to four more federal agencies, including the State Department headquarters and a Health and Human Services office building, as D.C. officials ordered hundreds of postal workers already taking preventive medicine to get more antibiotics.
Meanwhile, health officials said there is no evidence that Americans can contract inhalation anthrax the most lethal form of the disease from touching mail delivered to their homes.
"We believe very strongly that people who received mail in the Washington D.C., area, are essentially at no risk of inhalation anthrax," said Patrick Meehan, an official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Traces of the bacteria were found yesterday morning at several sites inside State Department headquarters and in one of six mail bundles sent to the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru. Anthrax also was found in a bundle sent to an office across the street from department headquarters, said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. No anthrax spores were found in the building's ventilation system.
"As far as we know, nothing's spread beyond mailrooms," Mr. Boucher said.
The discoveries at the State Department were made five days after a department mailroom employee who works at an off-site mail facility in Sterling fell ill with inhalation anthrax. The man was listed in serious condition last night.
Spores also were found in the mailroom of the Cohen Building of the Department of Health and Human Services. The building houses offices of the Food and Drug Administration and Voice of America radio. The Department of Agriculture closed the mailroom in its downtown Economic Research Service office after a trace of anthrax spores was confirmed there.
The existence of the bacteria was confirmed yesterday in the mailroom of the main U.S. Supreme Court building, leading officials to keep the high court closed at least through today.
Yesterday's finding came two days after spores were found on an air filter at the court's off-site mail handling center. Since then, some 400 people at the court, including the nine justices, have been treated with the antibiotic doxycycline, court officials said.
As the latest discoveries were made public yesterday, several senators announced last night that the Hart Senate Office Building might remain closed until Nov. 13 so it could be fumigated with chlorine dioxide gas.
The southwest quadrant of the Hart building was closed Oct. 17 after an anthrax-laced letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, was opened Oct. 15. Since then, 28 persons who work on Capitol Hill, 21 of whom are Mr. Daschle's staff members, have tested positive for anthrax exposure.
If the procedure is deemed appropriate, cleaning crews will seal off the 10-million-cubic-foot building and pump the gas through its circulation system.
The method is "the quickest, most protective and least disruptive approach," said Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat and assistant majority leader.
The temporary closure will displace 50 senators, half of the Senate. Some will relocate to committee meeting rooms, smaller offices at the Capitol or at the postal building near Union Station across the street.
"What every senator wants is the building to be safe for our staff," said Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican.
Nationwide, three persons have died of inhalation anthrax and five others have been hospitalized with the disease. Eight others have contracted skin anthrax.
A 61-year-old hospital worker in New York is critically ill, with preliminary test results indicating her illness could be a result of inhalation anthrax, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said late last night. If confirmed, it would be the first case of a New York resident to come down with the inhaled form of anthrax.
The woman is a stockroom employee of the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, officials said. The source of her infection is not known.
The State Department yesterday halted its mail service, known as the pouch system, to foreign diplomatic posts and stopped accepting package deliveries or sealed envelopes, including passport applications. Officials have decided to decontaminate all of its mailrooms across the country and all of its estimated 260 U.S. embassies and consulates abroad, Mr. Boucher said.
"The State Department pouch system, mail system, is essentially shut down," he said.
The department's classified, diplomatic baggage courier system was not affected by the measures. Mr. Boucher said communication between Washington and foreign posts is intact.
Results of tests on 71 of 155 samples taken from about 15 spots at State Department headquarters and its annexes had been completed by yesterday afternoon, he said.
Three of the 71 samples, taken from two sites in the main building, tested positive for low levels of anthrax exposure, Mr. Boucher said during yesterday's press briefing.
Besides the anthrax spores found in a pouch sent to Peru, traces were found in a mail bundle addressed to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security's Rewards for Justice program.
The program operates a fund from which money is paid for information leading to the arrest or conviction of a terrorist.
The bundle was sent to an office across the street from headquarters, officials said.
However, Mr. Boucher said, there was no indication that any specific letter to the program was laced with anthrax spores, and no link had been drawn between the positive test for anthrax exposure and terrorism.
That bundle had been forwarded to the department from the Brentwood Mail Processing Center in Northeast, where the Daschle letter was processed earlier this month. Two postal employees who worked at Brentwood died last week from inhalation anthrax, and two others remained hospitalized with the same form of the disease.
Mr. Boucher declined to say if Secretary of State Colin L. Powell had been tested for anthrax exposure or had been offered antibiotics. "I would say we would have no reason to believe that he would have been exposed," he said.
The main mail-handling center at the Justice Department was shut down after traces of anthrax spores were detected Sunday night at the department's off-site mail facility in Landover.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said his department was moving quickly to help those who were exposed to the disease while working to protect Americans from bioterrorism.
"We're learning more each and every day," he said during a morning news conference where he announced the latest discovery. "And we're going to keep working our hardest to tackle this new challenge facing our country."
Meanwhile, two more anthrax infections were confirmed, bringing the total number of cases to 16 nationwide. One woman who handled mail at her job in Mercerville, N.J., was diagnosed with skin anthrax. Hers is the first non-postal worker anthrax case in New Jersey. A second postal worker from the Hamilton Township also was confirmed to have inhalation anthrax, health officials there said last night.
News of the latest developments came as hundreds of D.C. postal workers returned to D.C. General Hospital to receive their remaining 50-day doses of antibiotics. Some 6,300 postal workers have received treatment for exposure in the past week.
Most said they were slow to trust city and federal officials who didn't act fast enough to test and treat postal employees.
"We don't trust them because it seems they know just as much about anthrax and treatment as we do," said Rena Budd, a U.S. Postal Service representative. "They should be more concerned about the safety of the employees and less about getting the mail out."
A postal union in New York filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Postal Service, seeking closure of facilities where anthrax spores have been found. Also, the American Post Workers Union's Miami local postal union has sued the Postal Service to provide greater protection from anthrax by stepping up testing and cleaning of facilities, and providing more masks and gloves to postal workers.
Dave Boyer, Jerry Seper, Brian DeBose and Daniel F. Drummond contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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