- The Washington Times - Friday, May 10, 2002

The Federal Reserve yesterday found traces of anthrax on about 20 pieces of mail during a routine screening in the courtyard of the Fed's headquarters in Northwest.
Postal and law enforcement authorities described the amount as "minute" and very unlikely to pose a health threat to anyone working at the Fed or in the general public.
"Routine preliminary tests, administered late Tuesday and Wednesday by board and contract employees wearing protective environmental suits, detected anthrax spores in small batches of mail," the Fed said in a statement.
The traces were found on "routine commercial and business mail" without any of the characteristics powder or handwritten addresses identified as "suspicious" by the FBI anthrax investigators, the statement said.
FBI spokesman Chris J. Murray said the spore discovery was "not a genuine anthrax attack" and that the preliminary tests detected trace amounts of cross-contamination likely originating with tiny bits of anthrax residue in a mail bin in the Fed's mail-scanning trailer at 20th and C streets NW.
Subsequent tests of mailroom surfaces and mail-distribution points at the Fed have all been negative, Fed spokesman David Skidmore said. He said some of the mail was addressed to Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan and that the 20 or so pieces of mail were "fairly recent," with postmarks of April or May.
U.S. Postal Service officials said preliminary testing is often inaccurate, and "if it was like the past anthrax letters, a lot more than just traces would have been detected."
Postal Inspector Daniel L. Mihalko, stressing that officials won't be 100 percent certain about the spores until a final examination is done during the next few days, said that "in December, the Fed reported a positive preliminary test that turned out to be negative."
Because Fed mail has a government ZIP code, it is sent to a contracted irradiation facility either in New Jersey or Ohio before delivery to Washington. Once at the Fed, the mail goes through more screening and regular anthrax testing in the courtyard.
"The testing that they do would also detect dead anthrax spores that were killed by the irradiation process," Mr. Mihalko said. "There is a very real possibility this could have been traces on some piece of equipment there could be equipment out there that may have months ago been in Brentwood."
During earlier anthrax attacks, spores of the bacteria contaminated the District's central mail-processing center on Brentwood Road in Northeast and another sorting center in New Jersey, both of which remain closed for decontamination.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported yesterday that investigators searching for the sender of the anthrax letters to two U.S. senators last fall believe a new study may help them eliminate some labs as possible sources of the anthrax used in the attacks.
FBI researchers reported in the journal Science that they had found enough differences in the genetic structure of the Ames strain of anthrax to show that the spores found in letters sent to Capitol Hill did not originate from some labs where the strain was kept for research.
Experts who evaluated the Science study said it could eventually uncover other subtle but specific DNA markers to link certain lab cultures with the bacteria.

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