Appearance of anthrax in U.S. House

Sunday, October 21, 2001

WASHINGTON -- Anthrax was discovered in a House postal facility, officials said Saturday, as 150 FBI agents and postal inspectors swarmed a New Jersey postal route, searching for the mailbox where someone may have dropped anthrax-laced letters.

It capped a week that threw Congress into the middle of the anthrax-by-letter scare and more than doubled the number of Americans infected with the potentially deadly bacteria.

The latest anthrax discovery came in the Ford House Office Building, a few blocks from the Capitol. It was found in a bundling machine that processes mail for the Longworth House Office Building, where more than 100 lawmakers including Democratic leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri have their offices.

Hazardous materials teams have methodically worked their way across Capitol Hill since anthrax was discovered in a letter sent to Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

Mail for the House and Senate pass through a common postal facility before being separated and forwarded to each chamber's facilities. Nichols said it was possible the newly discovered anthrax came from a letter that had touched the Daschle letter. It was also possible that the anthrax came from another letter that has not yet surfaced, he said.

Last week, the tainted Daschle letter and the discovery that it had exposed more than two dozen people to anthrax threw both houses of Congress into turmoil. For the first time in history, the House shut down its half of the Capitol, closing all its offices until Tuesday.

On Saturday, House leaders said they would to reconvene as scheduled, even if they are forced to meet at an alternate location off Capitol Hill.

The discovery brought to four the number of congressional buildings believed tainted by anthrax and the first exposure on the House side of the complex.

Authorities said they do not know whether any tainted mail was delivered. All other equipment in the Ford building's mailroom tested negative, they said, as did the House child care center.

Nichols said plans were under way to use nasal swabs to test workers in the Ford mailroom for exposure to anthrax.

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