All Anthrax Tested Points to Single Source

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, October 26, 2001 (ENS) - The anthrax sent to Florida, New York and Washington, DC is highly concentrated and from the same strain, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge told reporters at a White House briefing Thursday. The news came as officials announced that a State Department contract worker in Sterling, Virginia has been diagnosed with inhalation anthrax - the region's fifth such case.

Based on the latest DNA testing, "it is clear that the terrorists responsible for these attacks intended to use this anthrax as a weapon," said Ridge. "We still don't know who is responsible, but we are marshaling every federal, state and local resource to find them and bring them to justice."

Ridge

Former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, the president's advisor on Homeland Security, said that all the anthrax tested appears to have come from a single source (Photo courtesy The White House)
Ridge said that all the anthrax spores tested are from a type known as the Ames strain, named for a bioweapons research center in Ames, Iowa. The strain, which is used for research in universities around the world, is also used to test vaccines.

The "Washington Post" reported Wednesday that the anthrax spores were treated with a chemical additive that allows the spores to remain airborne longer - making it far more likely that those exposed will inhale the dangerous substance and develop the dangerous, often fatal, inhalation form of anthrax.

"I can say to you without question, this is anthrax, and the samples from New York, Washington and Florida are all from the same family or strain. That's been documented by DNA testing," Major General John Parks, the commanding general at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command at Fort Detrik, Maryland told reporters.

"When we look at these spores underneath the microscope, they are uniform in size and highly concentrated, and highly pure," Parks added. "And these individual spores are very light, and if given some energy from, say, wind or clapping or motion of air in a room, they will drift in the air and fall to the ground."

"The good news," Parks said, "is that this strain is susceptible to all of the antibiotics that we have in the United States, from penicillin all the way to the most recent advanced quinolines that we have available."

Daschle said officials do not know whether the anthrax is coming from one source or multiple sources.

"I'm not prepared to tell you today the range of potential actors who could have created as pure and as concentrated and as respirable an anthrax as we are working on and investigating now. I don't know whether it's a large range or a narrow range," Ridge said.

But "clearly we are up against a shadow enemy," people who have no regard for human life, and who "are determined to murder innocent people," he said.

Daschle letter

The letter which brought anthrax to Senator Tom Daschle's office carried the return address of a nonexistent school (Photo courtesy FBI)
Anthrax spores have now affected all three branches of the U.S. government. A letter containing anthrax was received at the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, and anthrax spores have been found at mailrooms serving Congress, the White House, and - confirmed late today - the U.S. Supreme Court and the Central Intelligence Agency.

There are now five confirmed cases of inhalation anthrax in the Washington DC region. Two U.S. Postal Service workers from the Brentwood mail sorting facility in the capitol have died after inhaling anthrax spores in a back room of the center.

Two other Brentwood workers and a journalist who visited the Brentwood facility have also been diagnosed with inhalation anthrax.

On Thursday, the first postal worker with no direct ties to the Brentwood facility was diagnosed with inhalation anthrax. State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher told reporters that a 59 year old contract employee working at the State Department's main mail handling facility in suburban Sterling, Virginia has anthrax.

Boucher said the unidentified mail handler went to the hospital Wednesday with flu like symptoms.

"He tested positive for the disease," said Boucher. Where and how he was exposed is not known, but the Sterling facility does receive mail directly from the Brentwood facility.

As a precautionary measure, all of the State Department's mail handling employees have been placed on antibiotics, Boucher said.

The Sterling mail handling facility "is completely closed" and "no Department facilities are accepting mail at this time," he said. Boucher also said mail will not be going out in the diplomatic pouch system.

The Postal Service has begun testing for anthrax contamination at hundreds of post offices across the East Coast, as well as in every government mailroom. Masks and gloves will be issued to all 800,000 Postal Service employees nationwide, and the agency hopes to begin treating mail with irradiation to kill anthrax spores.

Homeland Security director Ridge said that health officials have now tested and treated more than 4,000 postal workers in Washington DC, New Jersey, New York City and other affected areas. The main mail processing center in New York City tested positive for anthrax spores on Thursday.

After a closed door meeting Wednesday evening, director Ridge said the White House is calling for increased cooperation between federal agencies to ensure a more rapid response to further anthrax cases, in hopes of avoiding further loss of life.

The anthrax attacks claimed their first victim last month when a journalist in Florida died on inhalation anthrax after opening a letter containing anthrax. One of his coworkers contracted cutaneous, or skin anthrax, as have aides to television anchors in New York City where anthrax laced letters were also received.