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Anthrax Found At White House Remote Mail Site
2 Postal Workers Dead; Others Angry
Posted: 8:07 a.m. EDT October 23, 2001
Updated: 4:49 p.m. EDT October 23, 2001
A small amount of anthrax was found at a remote mail site for the White House. A concentration was found on a "slitter," a piece of equipment that opens mail, located in the remote mailroom.
The facility "has been closed for further testing and decontamination," according to White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.
Fleischer said that all employees at the site were being tested for exposure to anthrax, as were mail workers in the White House complex itself.
He said that antibiotics would be available for those who are determined to need them.
The off-site facility is at a military facility located miles away from the White House. Fleischer said he was confident that the White House was safe because of the security procedures already in place.
White House has "a regular program of environmental sampling" which has been enhanced since Sept. 11.
The White House was being tested for anthrax. Fleischer said that all environmental tests at the White House itself have thus far come back negative.
A positive culture was found late Tuesday morning, Secret service was informed then the senior White House staff was informed. This is the first test that came back positive.
"The president expressed his concern for the people who work at the facility," Fleischer said.
"The White House, unfortunately, has always been a target."
2 Postal Workers Dead The two postal workers who died earlier this week are confirmed as having inhalation anthrax, Mayor Anthony Williams of Washington, D.C., said Tuesday. Two other postal employees remain in critical condition, with inhalation anthrax. And city officials say four other cases are listed as "suspicious." Another 12 people are under scrutiny, but it is too early to even arouse serious supicion of anthrax contamination.
Both of the deceased worked at the Brentwood facility -- Washington's central postal office.
Anthrax was found at the Brentwood mail processing plant in the employee work areas. Health officials called for anyone who came in contact with the mail processing area of a postal facility that receives mail from the Brentwood site to come forward for treatment. They want people to come for treatment -- not testing. Possibly exposed people need to go to the D.C. General Hospital and get Cipro.
Those who could have come into contact include postal workers, members of the media, health officials and anyone who had a reason to come in contact with the possibly infected areas.
The Brentwood facility was officially deemed a crime scene Tuesday, after an anthrax-tainted letter sent to Congress went through Brentwood.
Among the "suspicious" cases are two who reported to Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Springs with flu-like symptoms, one 35-year-old male and one 41-year-old woman.
Postal Service officials say more than 3,000 employees across the nation's capital have been evaluated and given antibiotics.
Postal Workers Angry Meanwhile, Washington, D.C., postal workers who are just now being treated for possible exposure to anthrax are angry.
As they waited in a long line for testing at D.C. General Hospital Tuesday, workers ranted at the Postal Service, which didn't begin testing immediately after a tainted letter was found on Capitol Hill.
Letter carrier Nikki Thompson said that postal workers should have been taken care of first, because they get the mail before Congress. Thompson said that her co-workers are dying while "the congressmen are all still there."
Mail carrier and technician Warren Cook said he didn't even get a test -- just some pills and advice about symptoms. He said that makes him angry because people on Capitol Hill got tests and pills right away after the letter was found in Sen. Tom Daschle's office.
Cook said, "It shows you that Congress really cares about themselves first, they don't care about the people."
The White House is rejecting charges of discrimination in the anthrax outbreak.
Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said that authorities responded in Washington just as they did with tainted letters at a publishing house in Florida and NBC News in New York.
Fleischer said that based on the New York and Florida cases, there was no reason to think the anthrax leaked in transit.
However, Fleischer acknowledged the government is learning lessons with each new case.
And he asserted that the delay in testing is not what killed the postal workers -- it was whoever sent the deadly spores through the mail.
Gephardt: Postal Machine Spread Anthrax House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt said that the anthrax that was spread throughout a Washington, D.C., postal facility was dispersed by a mail-processing machine. After meeting with President George W. Bush and other lawmakers Tuesday, Gephardt said, "No one understood the effect of the machine."
Gephardt described the anthrax as small and aerosolized, and said the letter containing it was put through a machine that pressures envelopes it processes.
The anthrax-contaminated letter was sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office. Capitol office buildings remain closed as a result of further anthrax testing, but the Capitol building reopened Tuesday.
Another New Jersey Postal Worker Suspected To Have Anthrax Authorities now suspect that a postal worker in Hamilton Township, N.J., is sick with the inhaled form of anthrax, Dr. George Diferdinando of the New Jersey Department of Health reported. The middle-aged woman is in stable condition and is receiving antibiotics. He said she is responding to treatment.
Health officials said the woman handles mail at the mail processing center in Hamilton. They say she felt ill last week and was hospitalized.
Doctors say the woman is in serious but stable condition and holding her own.
Investigators said that more anthrax-contaminated mail may have been sent through a Trenton, N.J.,-area post office that processed at least three anthrax-tainted letters addressed to NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw, Daschle and the New York Post. An FBI spokeswoman said that that possibility could "very much exist," and the agency urged the public to be cautious.
Meantime, the state is expected to have final environmental test results Tuesday from the Trenton post office.
CDC officials are actively seeking out people who may have been exposed to anthrax, calling it "active surveillance."
The New Jersey Health Department is now recommending that everyone who works at the Hamilton facility or postal workers who may have come into the plant should be tested immediately and begin a 10-day course of antibiotics.
Hundreds of workers were also tested. Two postal workers tested positive for skin anthrax and a third worker is showing symptoms.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, health officials said that they have sent messages throughout the state to public health officials to be on the alert for potential bioterrorism cases.
A reporter asked how the health officials could be sure that the letters have not passed from the post office to "normal, everyday people."
Diferdinando said that they are researching that, but until now all the suspected and confirmed cases have been of postal workers.
He also said that they are asking all health care workers to consider anthrax when examining patients. A letter carrier who works at the West Trenton post office in Ewing has skin anthrax.
Ashcroft: Anthrax-Letter Attacks Are Terrorism Attorney General John Ashcroft said that he views the recent anthrax-letter attacks in the United States as terrorism. As he put it Tuesday -- anytime someone sends anthrax though the mail "it's a terrorist attack."
He said that federal authorities are "aggressively" pursuing leads in the string of attacks in Washington, New York and Florida.
But he said, at this point, there's no clear link between the anthrax letters and the Sept. 11 hijacking attacks.
Ashcroft said he's not able to rule in -- or out -- a direct link.
Post Office Looks At Mail Sanitation The Postal Service is looking for ways to sanitize the mail so letters don't transmit anthrax.
Postmaster General John Potter said that the technology is already being used in the food industry and elsewhere to kill bacteria.
He acknowledged that it would take awhile for such systems to be put in place, so people are still being urged to watch for suspicious mail.
The Postal Service started sending out millions of postcards to every address in the country this week. The card explains what should make people suspicious of a piece of mail -- and what they should do with it.
Potter said mail deliveries will continue.
Most mail carriers aren't wearing gloves. The head of their union said it's an individual decision.
What Should You Do? Anthrax specialists said opening mail at home is probably safe. They said it takes a high dose of anthrax bacterium to become ill.
They also said most anthrax spores would fall off letters as they're being processed and delivered.
But health officials said they can't say for sure that there's no risk to people at home -- because nothing like the current scare has happened before. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said people should be cautious if they receive a suspicious letter, wash their hands and notify police.
-- PHO (firstname.lastname@example.org), October 23, 2001