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RESPONSE TO TERROR | DISEASE

More Anthrax Traces Found on Capitol Hill

November 11, 2001|ROBERT A. ROSENBLATT and NICK ANDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Small amounts of anthrax were discovered in four new locations on Capitol Hill, including the Hart building offices of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), but they do not threaten the health of anyone who worked or visited there, officials said Saturday.

The anthrax findings are "trace amounts," insufficient to be inhaled and damage the lungs or to enter the body through a skin lesion, said Dr. John Eisold, the Capitol physician. "There is no public health threat" and no need for the employees to be tested or to take antibiotics, Eisold said.

The Hart Senate Office Building has been closed since Oct. 17, two days after a letter containing anthrax was found outside the office suite of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). There have been no mail deliveries since then, and all mail headed for members of Congress is being shipped to Lima, Ohio, for sanitization by radiation that kills anthrax and other bacteria.

Mail already in the Hart building when it was closed has been stored in sealed drums and will be examined by the FBI. Meanwhile, the offices in the Hart building are being systematically tested for anthrax, and Saturday's findings were the latest results of the testing, said Lt. Dan Nichols of the Capitol Police.

The anthrax traces were in the offices of Feinstein, Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) and Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.).

Traces also were found in the Longworth building offices of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), which is next door to a contaminated suite that had already been shut down, Nichols said. The Longworth building remains open, but four offices, including that of Cummings, are now closed.

Investigators are working on the theory that all of these offices were affected by "cross-contamination" when their mail somehow came in contact with the Daschle letter.

There is also the possibility of a second contaminated letter, but nothing has turned up, Nichols said.

Feinstein said she was told by the Senate sergeant-at-arms that tests showed trace amounts of anthrax contamination in the mail room of her suite.

"The spores are probably from mail that was contaminated by another letter containing anthrax," Feinstein said in a statement issued through spokesman Jim Hock.

'Virtually Zero' Medical Risk

The senator said she consulted with Capitol physicians, who told her the medical risk to her staff is "virtually zero" and that no tests or treatments were recommended.

"We will, however, continue to monitor the situation very closely," Feinstein said.

Feinstein employs 45 people in the Hart building, 39 of whom work in her two-story suite on the third and fourth floors in the northeast section of the building. The other six work in a Judiciary Committee office on the eighth floor in the southeast sector.

Feinstein's mail room, Hock said, is on the fourth floor of the building.

The California Democrat's staff members, like those serving 49 other senators who keep offices in Hart, have been shut out of the building since a Daschle aide opened a letter containing anthrax in his sixth-floor mail room in the southeast sector of the building.

Twenty Daschle aides, two aides to Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.) and six Capitol Police officers tested positive for exposure to the bacteria that week. But no other employees or visitors to Hart at that time were found to be exposed after thousands of people were tested via nasal swabs, nor has anyone fallen ill with the disease.

Aides to the 50 senators who keep offices in Hart have been dispersed for nearly a month, working out of hideaways in the Capitol and odd rooms made available in the two other Senate office buildings.

Officials have struggled to come up with a workable cleanup plan for Hart, a giant building with more than 1 million square feet of interior space. In addition to the fifth and sixth floors of the southeast sector--the main area of contamination, a freight elevator in the southwest corner, a stairwell from the eighth to the ninth floors and a ventilation filter on the ninth floor all had previously showed trace contamination.

In related developments, Gov. Bill Owens of Colorado ordered the closing of two post offices Saturday after a worker at the Fort Collins facility was hospitalized with pneumonia.

The worker is being tested to determine if his illness was caused by anthrax. Meanwhile, the office where he worked and another post office handling mail from his office were closed as a precautionary measure. Tests in a state laboratory were inconclusive for the presence of anthrax, but further examination of blood and lung fluid will be carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

In New Jersey, four post offices where traces of anthrax had been found were reopened Saturday after a cleanup Friday night.

Officials are not sure of the source of the anthrax traces but believe it could be another case of cross-contamination like the situation on Capitol Hill. The four post offices exchange mail with the Hamilton processing center, which is the site that handled the anthrax-laced letters sent to Sen. Daschle, the New York Post and NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw.

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