More than 100 workers at White House mail center test negative

Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- Preliminary anthrax tests on some 120 White House mail sorters turned up no sign of exposure to the bacteria on Wednesday. President Bush said he's confident that the people inside the gates at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. are not in danger.

"There have been no results that have come back with a positive measure of anthrax," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said, reporting on the screens done so far on about 120 of the 200 workers who have had contact with potentially contaminated White House mail.

Those being tested work at a remote, Secret Service-controlled facility across the Potomac River on property shared by the Anacostia Naval Station and Bolling Air Force Base. Although officials say they are confident no tainted mail actually reached the White House complex, workers at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House were also tested.

"We're making sure that the West Wing, the White House is safe," the president said Tuesday after a trace of anthrax was found on a machine that opens White House mail at the screening facility several miles away.

That offsite facility at Bolling was shut down Tuesday morning.

Between three and eight workers on loan from the U.S. Postal Service had access to that contaminated machine where a trace amount -- anywhere from 20 to 500 spores -- of anthrax was found, a senior law enforcement official said.

At least 8,000 spores must be inhaled into the lungs to get the most deadly form of anthrax. Substantially fewer spores can cause the highly treatable cutaneous form of anthrax if they enter a cut in the skin.

Asked if he was tested for the germ that has killed three people already this month, or if he was taking precautionary antibiotics, Bush replied simply: "I don't have anthrax."

At least some White House personnel were given Cipro six weeks ago. White House officials won't discuss that, or who might be receiving the anthrax-treating antibiotic now.

"If the White House were to start to reveal the security measures including health protections that are in place for the president ... people who would want to do harm to the president would know what protections are in place and therefore they could shift their tactics," Fleischer said.

On the night of the Sept. 11 attacks, the White House Medical Office dispensed Cipro to staff accompanying Vice President Dick Cheney as he was secreted off to the safety of Camp David, and told them it was a precaution, according to one person directly involved.

At that time, nobody could guess the dimensions of the terrorists' plot.

Now, Bush said on Tuesday, "There's no question that the evildoers are continuing to try to harm America and Americans."

Regular biohazard testing inside the White House had been stepped up after last month's attacks and, as of Tuesday afternoon, found no traces of anthrax, presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

Security officials were apparently spooked even before Tuesday's discovery at Bolling, which handles mail processed through Washington's Brentwood postal facility, and halted mail delivery to the White House complex several days earlier.

"We have not seen mail in a while," said a West Wing aide. A staffer on campus at Bolling, in southeast Washington, said the same was true there.

Two postal workers at Brentwood died of pulmonary anthrax -- one on Sunday, the other on Monday.

Brentwood is where the anthrax-tainted letter to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle was processed before delivery.

In a statement, the Secret Service said no one connected with the mail facility at Bolling has reported anthraxlike symptoms.

Postal and health officials have said it's possible for one anthrax-tainted letter to contaminate another, meaning the anthrax found on the Bolling machinery could have come from a letter that mixed with other mail at Brentwood.

Experts believe it unlikely that a cross-contaminated letter would have contained enough anthrax to make someone sick.

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