New evidence of anthrax found in House office building

Saturday, October 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Authorities have discovered evidence of anthrax in a House office building that processes mail for lawmakers, congressional officials said Saturday as hazardous materials teams methodically worked their way across Capitol Hill.

The finding in the Ford Office Building, a few blocks from the Capitol, brought to three the number of facilities believed to be tainted by anthrax. It marked the first time evidence had been found on the House side of the complex.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity. Dr. Howard Zucker, a spokesman for the Capitol Public Health Team, declined comment.

Officials had earlier reported finding anthrax in the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, where a letter containing the bacteria was opened last Monday, and in a mail center in a building across the street.

The disclosure came as investigators in New Jersey interviewed Trenton, N.J., residents for any information about two anthrax-laced letters sent with Trenton postmarks to Daschle, D-S.D., and NBC's anchorman.

FBI agents and postal inspectors combed the route of a Trenton letter carrier who contracted anthrax. They also seized several Postal Service collection boxes in the past few days.

Tom Ridge, chief of homeland security, said anthrax strains that have been found in Florida, New York and Washington are ``indistinguishable'' from each other and may have been from the same batch.

Eight people have now contracted the disease, including one Florida man who died, and 37 others have tested positive for exposure. The ill and exposed people are all using antibiotics and are expected to recover.

``It is terrorizing people, and Americans are not ready to live with this,'' Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Friday at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.

In his weekly radio Saturday, President Bush said investigators still do not know who sent the anthrax and have no evidence linking it to the al-Qaida network of terrorists, whom American officials have blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks.

``We do know that anyone who deliberately delivers anthrax is engaged in a crime and an act of terror, a hateful attempt to harm innocent people and frighten citizens,'' said Bush, in China for an economic summit. ``These attacks once again reveal the evil at the heart of terrorism, the evil we must fight.''

On Friday, Argentine Health Minister Hector Lombardo held a nationally televised news conference to announce that a travel brochure mailed from Florida to a house in Buenos Aires tested positive for anthrax spores. The recipient of the brochure was not infected.

In Washington, Ridge told reporters the anthrax analyzed in the United States had not been ``weaponized,'' meaning it had not been manipulated to facilitate inhalation by potential victims.

Even so, one participant in a conference call for lawmakers said Robert Gibbs, a Defense Department official, reported the anthrax was of ``relative high quality'' and that ``there is an effort to downplay and not promote the abilities of the people doing this.'' The participant spoke on condition of anonymity.

Congress recessed until Tuesday so hazardous materials teams could check the Capitol and House and Senate office buildings for evidence that anthrax spores had spread.

Officials said three of 31 people had been removed from a list of employees who earlier tested positive for exposure to the bacteria, citing more complete tests. That was out of 1,400 people for whom nasal swab results were completed. Test results remain incomplete for 2,500 more people.

The 28 people who tested positive for exposure were six Capitol police officers, 20 aides to Daschle and two staff members who work for Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis. He is in the office suite next to Daschle's.

Feingold's aides have said they were not in Daschle's suite Monday, when the letter was opened. Officials said for the first time that meant the anthrax-laden powder had escaped the confines of the Daschle's offices.

Dr. John Eisold, the Capitol physician, said at least 120 people had been placed on a 60-day regimen of Cipro, an antibiotic.

One of the two new reported anthrax victims was Johanna Huden, 30, an assistant to the editorial page editor of the New York Post, Bob McManus. McManus said Huden had recovered and was working Friday.

The other, a mail sorter at a Hamilton, N.J., postal facility, was infected with cutaneous, or skin, anthrax, a much milder form of the disease than the inhaled form that killed a Florida man Oct. 5.

The 35-year-old Levittown, Pa., man was in stable condition at a hospital and is expected to recover, Pennsylvania Department of Health spokesman Richard McGarvey said.