- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Another postal facility was closed Tuesday as concern spread over the detection of anthrax in two pieces of mail at military mailrooms. Hundreds of workers were offered antibiotics as a precaution, though no unusual health problems were reported.

Officials said the mail in question had been irradiated, so any anthrax in them was inert when they triggered alarms at the Pentagon mail facility and another nearby facility that handles military mail.

Environmental testing was being conducted on the two military mail facilities and on a third postal facility in the District of Columbia, which was closed Tuesday because it may have handled the mail that went to the two military mailrooms.

Antibiotics were offered to some 200 workers at the D.C. facility and to workers at the military mailrooms. Hospitals were told to be on the lookout for symptoms like respiratory problems, rashes or flu-like symptoms that could signal exposure to anthrax, which can be used as a biological weapon.

“This is a prudent course of action. I don’t think there’s cause for alarm or panic or undue worry,” said Dr. Gregg Pane, director of the city’s Department of Health. “We’ve also mobilized our strategic national stockpile so we have enough antibiotics available should the need arise.”

Also on Tuesday, a hazardous materials team was called to a building occupied by the Internal Revenue Service after a report of a powdery substance found in a letter. IRS officials said in a statement later that “initial tests were negative for chemical or biological substances.”

At the Pentagon, officials on Tuesday corrected inaccurate information about when mailroom sensors were triggered over the possible presence of anthrax.

Spokesman Glenn Flood said the mail that tested positive for anthrax passed through the Pentagon’s mail handling facility on Thursday, not Monday, as he previously said. The test results on the mail did not come back until Monday.

Anthrax was confirmed in two items of mail at the two military mail facilities. The Pentagon’s mail delivery site, which is separate from the main Pentagon building, was evacuated and shut down Monday remained closed, along with a nearby satellite facility in Fairfax County, Virginia.

Officials disclosed no information about the origins of the two pieces of mail.

About 175 people work at the Pentagon’s mail facility, and an additional 100 may have been in contact with deliveries for the Pentagon, officials said.

Follow-up tests were being conducted at the U.S. Army Research Institute for Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md., officials said. They would take two to three days to complete.

Anthrax can be spread through the air or by skin contact. Officials noted that sometimes anthrax sensors can give false-positive results.

In October 2001, someone sent anthrax in letters through the mail to media and government offices in Washington, Florida and elsewhere, raising fears of bioterrorism. Five people were killed and 17 more sickened. Those cases have never been solved.

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