- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2005

An anthrax scare that caused the evacuation of a Pentagon mail-sorting facility and two other letter-processing centers ended last night when officials said further test results showed no sign of the lethal biological agent.

“We had some preliminary results that were positive, but subsequent additional tests have determined that the sample that we had was in fact negative,” said Dr. William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.

Officials became concerned about a possible anthrax outbreak after learning Monday that a routine environmental test conducted last week at a mail-sorting facility that services the Pentagon showed signs of spores.

Later in the day Monday, a biohazard sensor at a Defense Department mail-sorting facility in Baileys Crossroads also indicated the presence of anthrax.

Federal officials said preliminary tests indicated the presence of anthrax. But more advanced tests conducted at Fort Detrick in Maryland came back negative.

Hundreds of workers at the two facilities and employees at the U.S. Postal Service’s V Street annex in Northeast were given antibiotics after the preliminary test results were released and the facilities were closed. The annex sorts mail going to federal offices in the region.

Gerry McKiernan, a U.S. Postal Service spokesman, said the action was taken out of an “abundance of caution.”

Explaining the postal service’s process, he said government mail is delivered to the V Street annex where it is shrink wrapped and sent to a Bridgeton, N.J., company that irradiates the mail, then returns it to V Street for processing.

In October of 2001, letters containing anthrax spores were mailed through a New Jersey postal center to news outlets and political offices in the District, Florida and New York.

The attacks killed five persons, including two mail handlers at the Brentwood facility in Northeast. The case remains unsolved.

About 100 workers from the V Street annex were taken by bus yesterday to D.C. General Hospital to receive three days worth of antibiotics.

“For some, it is the second time around,” said Ron Burr, a V Street facility manager. “Some were exposed the first time in 2001.”

Joyce Love, a 51-year-old mail processor at the facility, said she was nervously awaiting test results.

“It just brings back a lot of memories from the last anthrax threat,” she said.

There were two other reports yesterday morning of potentially dangerous substances inside buildings in the District.

A hazardous materials crew rushed to a building occupied by the Internal Revenue Service to check a report of a black powdery substance inside a letter, said Alan Etter, fire department spokesman. He said the substance was likely strychnine, a common ingredient in rat poison.

The crew also closed the 800 block of First Street NE after a report of a suspicious package inside CNN offices. The package turned out to be tainted with aluminum phosphate, a compound needed to make homemade explosives.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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