WASHINGTON (AP) — The death of two postal workers of
certain'' anthrax led health officials to begin testing mail workers
from 36 post offices in the nation's capital Tuesday and put thousands
on antibiotics as a precaution.
Among those being tested: Washington Mayor Anthony Williams. He
visited a post office Friday to show support for workers and could have
Nine people with suspicious symptoms were being monitored. Dr. Ivan
Walks, the city's chief health official, said not all nine are mail
He also raised the possibility that the contaminated letter received
in the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle was not the only one
that passed through the postal system here. "It's clear more than one
letter was sent,'' Walks said on NBC's "Today.''
Two postal workers with inhaled anthrax remain hospitalized — resting
comfortably, but in serious condition. Walks said tests on the two dead
workers will likely find anthrax.
"The cause of death, the manner of death of these two individuals,
make us almost certain it's classic for inhalation anthrax, and we are
proceeding as if it such because we need to do that to protect the
public health,'' he said.
Congress was open for business Tuesday, although the office buildings
for Senate and House workers remained closed for anthrax testing. Four
"hot spots'' have been identified around the congressional campus, and
possibly the Capitol itself, congressional sources said.
The Postal Service defended a delay in looking for anthrax at the
city's central processing facility, where the victims worked, and
considered new precautions for workers nationwide.
Deborah Willhite, senior vice president of the U.S. Postal Service,
said the agency relied on federal officials who advised against testing
of all workers. But by Thursday, three days after the letter was
discovered in Daschle's office, postal officials questioned that
decision and began their own testing.
Testing for anthrax continued at Washington's Brentwood postal
facility, a week after the tainted letter appeared on Capitol Hill.
Health officials said they would expand testing to 36 post offices
across the city that received mail from Brentwood, as investigators
tried to pinpoint any other sites contaminated with anthrax.
Authorities said postal workers citywide should begin taking
preventive antibiotics. The number prescribed such precautions neared
10,000 in Washington alone.
Post office moves temporarily
AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais [21K]
As the bioterrorist toll mounted, postal officials planned to meet
Tuesday with experts at the federal Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention to consider new precautions for postal workers across the
country, including wearing gloves and masks as they handle mail.
"Like other symbols of American freedom and power, the mail and our
employees have become a target of terrorists,'' Postmaster General John
Potter said. "We must take extraordinary steps to protect them both.''
Two Washington area postal workers have died — one Sunday, one Monday
— and officials strongly suspect they were sick with inhalation anthrax,
the most serious form of the disease. Another two men, already
diagnosed, are in serious condition in a northern Virginia hospital.
An employee of a Florida newspaper died of inhalation anthrax and a
worker at the same plant is hospitalized. Six persons have been
diagnosed with the skin form of anthrax: two at a Trenton, N.J., postal
facility and one each connected with The New York Post, NBC, ABC and CBS
in New York.
Tom Ridge speaks to press
AP/Susan Walsh [21K]
Twenty-eight people were confirmed to have been exposed to anthrax
following the delivery of the tainted letter to Daschle's office. No one
on Capitol Hill has become ill, though more than 5,000 have been tested
and office buildings remain closed.
Officials began tracing the letter back through the mail system and
found anthrax in a Senate mail room. Moving one step back, they
initially found none of the bacteria in an offsite congressional mail
facility where mail goes just before arriving in the Senate.
Based on these initial results, health experts concluded testing was
not needed at the Brentwood facility, which handles most of the city's
mail, including letters for Congress. Later, however, anthrax was
detected in the offsite facility, and over the weekend the first of the
Brentwood workers checked into the hospital.
"They closed the House building down while we were in there inhaling
it,'' said Abraham Odom of Oxon Hill, Md., who sorts small packages at
the Brentwood facility. "That's not right. That's not fair. This stuff
is supposed to be deadly.''
It was still unclear how enough anthrax escaped into the air of the
Brentwood facility so that workers breathed it deep into their lungs,
contracting the usually deadly inhalation form of the disease.
One possible explanation: Blowers used to clean postal machinery
could have puffed lethal anthrax spores through the air. The Postal
Service was revising its use of these machines, and moving to a vacuum
system instead of a blower. Potter also said bacteria-killing machines
like those used to sanitize food were being purchased.
House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt described the anthrax as a
highly sophisticated product — small and aerosolized — that was
dispersed by a mail-processing machine. "No one foresaw a machine that
puts pressure on the envelopes. The machine, I think, was the critical
factor,'' he said after meeting with President Bush and other
congressional leaders Tuesday morning. "No one understood the effect of
In New Jersey, the FBI sought the source of least three
anthrax-tainted letters that went through a mail facility in the Trenton