Feds say anthrax may all be from the same place

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October 20, 2001 -- Lab tests revealed the same anthrax strain was used to sow terror in New York, Washington and Florida, as probers zeroed in on a suburban Trenton, N.J., mailbox as the spot from which the deadly germ was sent.

Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge revealed the developments yesterday as the anthrax scare spread to South America - where the bacteria was discovered in a letter sent from New York to The New York Times bureau in Rio de Janeiro.

In addition, a New York Post Editorial Page employee tested positive for anthrax, bringing to eight the number of confirmed cases in the United States. Ridge said the same strain of anthrax was found in letters sent to NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and American Media Inc., a tabloid publisher in Boca Raton, Fla.

"The tests to date have concluded that the strains are indistinguishable," Ridge said. Asked if the anthrax came from the same supply point, he said: "One could draw that conclusion. "It does appear that it may have been from the same batch, but it may have been distributed to different individuals to infect and to send into the different communities," he added.

Ridge said FBI agents had learned that the letters to Brokaw and Daschle - bearing Trenton postmarks - were mailed from a mailbox in the west Trenton area. He refused to say where, but FBI agents, postal inspectors and cops converged on an apartment building in the Trenton suburb of Ewing Township. The building, which has a plastic mail bin in the lobby, is on the route of a mail carrier who contracted the skin version of anthrax.

The mail she collects is fed into the main Trenton post office in Hamilton Township, and a mail sorter there tested positive for skin anthrax yesterday. Ridge also had some good news. So far, there are no test results to suggest the anthrax had been "weaponized," or altered to make it spread more easily in the air. On a more chilling note, he said, "I wish I could tell you that we've seen the end of it, but we obviously are preparing for more."

As investigators redoubled their efforts to find those responsible for mailing the deadly germ, New York Times executive editor Howell Raines told staffers a letter mailed to the Rio bureau from New York on Oct. 5 tested positive for anthrax. It was set aside because it lacked a return address.

In other developments, experts conducted environmental tests at the CBS studios where Claire Fletcher, 27, an assistant to anchor Dan Rather, was diagnosed with skin anthrax. And Gov. Pataki said 100 of 140 environment samples taken at his Manhattan office had come back negative. The rest of the tests are due by tonight.

-- Swissrose (cellier3@mindspring.com), October 20, 2001

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