Tuesday, January 14, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 14 (UPI) — Anthrax has been detected at the mail processing facility for the Federal Reserve Board, and U.S. Postal Service officials said late on Tuesday they are testing one of their facilities in Washington for the presence of the deadly bacteria.

There is no evidence that USPS or Federal Reserve workers were exposed to anthrax, officials stressed.

Initial tests on a letter in the mail handling facility for the Fed “indicated the possible presence of anthrax” on Jan. 3, Dave Skidmore, a spokesman for the Federal Reserve Board, told United Press International.

The mail handling facility is a large trailer adjacent to the Fed’s headquarters in Washington.

Results of further testing came back Tuesday and confirmed the presence of anthrax, Skidmore said. “So this will be sent on to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta for further testing,” he said. He was uncertain when the CDC will complete the tests.

CDC officials said the Fed had not told them about the positive anthrax tests. “We have not as of yet been contacted to test any samples,” CDC spokeswoman Karen Hunter told UPI. She added: “We are aware of it (from media reports) and are looking into it.”

The USPS said it is taking the precaution of testing for anthrax at its V Street facility in Washington, which processes mail that goes to the Fed.

“We want to emphasize that we have no evidence of contamination and no evidence of a health risk to any worker,” Thomas Day, vice president for engineering at the Postal Service, said in a written statement.

“The Postal Service is conducting the tests out of an abundance of caution … There is no evidence of any contamination at the facility,” Day said.

There also is no indication that Fed staff were exposed, and no workers have been started on Cipro or other precautionary antibiotics to prevent anthrax infection, Skidmore said.

Mail handlers at the Fed’s facility “are suited in protective suits” and “we’ve had no indication of the presence of anthrax in our main building,” he said.

“The letter was not a suspicious letter that would’ve fit the profile of previous anthrax letters,” Skidmore said.

The batch of mail that contained the anthrax letter has been quarantined, and new incoming mail continues to be processed and distributed in a back-up facility, he said.

Since the letters were found to contain anthrax in 2001, the Fed has “routinely tested its incoming mail for the presence of anthrax,” Skidmore said. Twice before — in December 2001 and May 2002 — letters initially tested positive for anthrax.

But “in those cases, we did not have any further positive tests,” he said.

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