W A S H I N G T O N, Oct. 22, 2001 -- Anthrax is the suspected cause of death for two Washington, D.C. postal workers employed at a facility where two other workers have now been diagnosed with the gravest form of the bacterial infection.
MORE ANTHRAX-RELATED NEWS:
• Cleaning Equipment Theory
• Professional Poison at the Capitol
• Cold Trail on N.J. Postal Route ?
"It is very clear that their symptoms are suspicious and their deaths are likely due to anthrax," Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said, referring to the two employees of a central mail facility in the Brentwood area of Washington.
One man died Sunday and the other today. Authorities would not release any further details about the two men, but said they were awaiting the results of a final round of tests before labeling their deaths as anthrax-related.
"There is a strong suspicion that they died from anthrax," said Postmaster General Jack Potter.
Officials also disclosed today that a dock supervisor at the facility had been diagnosed with inhalation anthrax — a day after it was revealed an employee who worked with express and air mail, Leroy Richmond of Stafford, Va., had the same form of bacterial infection.
"We have a second confirmation of a case of inhalation anthrax," said chief Washington health officer Dr. Ivan Walks. He spoke to reporters outside D.C. General Hospital where many of the 2,000 employees at the Brentwood facility and another 150 at an air mail center near Baltimore-Washington International Airport were being tested and treated as a precautionary measure. Richmond worked at the air mail center.
Both of the inhalation anthrax patients were being treated at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Virginia and are said to be in serious condition.
Walks urged any employees who hadn't yet received treatment to do so immediately. Brentwood services 36 other post office facilities in the Washington, D.C. area. Officials from the Centers for Disease Control tonight are expected to tell workers employed at these other post office facilities to pick up the anthrax antibiotic Cipro and use it for 10 days, starting as soon as Tuesday.
Officials said a total of 13 cases citywide — including those of the four postal workers — were under investigation as being possibly related to anthrax.
The Brentwood facility processed an anthrax-contaminated letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office on Capitol Hill, where 28 employees tested positive for anthrax exposure last week.
• Cleaning Equipment Theory
Ridge said authorities were unaware of any additional letter laced with the bacteria and that all of the evidence gathered so far is "consistent with the theory that this one letter could have contaminated the whole system."
"Whether there's others, we don't know," he added.
It is unclear how the two postal workers were infected with anthrax. On Saturday, investigators turned up evidence of the bacteria on a single mail-sorting machine at a congressional mail-processing facility in the Ford House Office Building, about three blocks from the Capitol.
Postal Service officials said today they would change the way they clean some of their equipment. Normally they use high pressure air blowers to clean sensitive equipment, and officials wonder whether the blowers played any role in the workers' infections.
Postal workers are also getting guidelines on how to handling potentially hazardous mail. See Related Story.
The Capitol building, meanwhile, reopened for business today after hazardous materials teams spent several days sweeping the entire complex for anthrax spores.
All House and Senate office buildings were expected to remain closed until at least Wednesday.
The latest Washington postal worker confirmed to have anthrax is the fourth person in the country diagnosed with the inhalation form of the disease over the past month.
A photo editor at American Media Inc. in Boca Raton, Fla., died after inhaling anthrax and a mailroom employee at the tabloid publishing company is recovering and in stable condition
Three postal workers in New Jersey and four individuals have been diagnosed with cutaneous or skin infections and four people in New York are believed to have contracted the associated with the highly treatable form of the disease at ABC, CBS, NBC and the New York Post..
Today, preliminary environmental tests indicated that traces of anthrax were found in CBS anchorman Dan Rather's anteroom and office. Last Thursday, Rather's assistant was diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax and is said to be recovering and taking Cipro.
At ABCNEWS headquarters, where the 7-month-old infant of a producer was diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax, almost all the environmental sample tests have been completed, and so far all test results have come back negative.
• Professional Poison at the Capitol
Investigators still do not know who is behind the recent anthrax cases, but senior law enforcement officials have said the anthrax-laden powder in the letter sent to Daschle was professionally manufactured.
They said the substance was highly concentrated and finely milled, allowing it to easily become airborne and infect victims with the extremely lethal inhalant form of the disease. Those qualities suggest the powder was produced by a well-organized and possibly state-funded operation.
Federal authorities have also revealed that the bacteria found in Daschle's office came from the same strain as the anthrax contained in a letter sent to NBC News headquarters in Manhattan, and that found at American Media Inc. in Boca Raton, Fla.
An anthrax-contaminated letter sent to the New York Post has been sent to an Army facility in Maryland for further testing.
• Cold Trail on N.J. Postal Route?
Federal agents are retracing a postal route in West Trenton, N.J. and have reportedly seized mailboxes in which anthrax-laced letters may have been deposited. However, sources tell ABCNEWS that investigators have had no luck on the current leads and are checking New Jersey pharmacies and hospitals as well as areas where the suspected hijackers involved in the Sept. 11 attacks lived for new clues.
Three workers at a central mail facility there have been infected with cutaneous or skin anthrax.
Contaminated letters mailed to the New York Post, Daschle's office in Washington and NBC News headquarters in New York were all postmarked in Trenton. Handwriting in the three letters is also similar.
Like the letter addressed to NBC News anchorman Tom Brokaw, the Post letter was dated Sept. 18. The letter to Daschle was dated Oct. 8.
The handwritten letters inside the envelopes to Brokaw and Daschle were both dated "09-11-01," the date of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, and contained within their messages: "Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is great."
The source of anthrax infection for a 7-month-old infant who visited ABCNEWS headquarters in New York has not been identified and no suspect letter has been found in the building.