Mail handler buried while search for bacteria widens to busines

Sunday, October 28, 2001

The Postal Service buried a mail handler killed by anthrax -- the second funeral in two days -- while the search for the bacteria widened Saturday to thousands of businesses in Washington and 30 mail distribution centers. Authorities worried that there might be a second anthrax-laced letter, or more, not yet discovered.

With the nation on edge over anthrax-by-mail, the post office signed a $40 million contract to buy eight electron-beam devices to sanitize letters and packages. The equipment will be used first in Washington, where the anthrax scare has spread from mail centers for Congress and the White House to the Supreme Court and the CIA.

No new cases

Dr. Ivan Walks, Washington's public health director, said Saturday that no new cases of anthrax had been reported either in people or buildings.

"We cannot be paralyzed by our anger or slowed by our sadness. We need to identify the weaknesses in our system of confronting bioterrorism so that we can protect our people," Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle of South Dakota, whose office received an anthrax-related letter, said Saturday in the Democratic response to the president's weekly radio address.

Police and health experts were continuing testing in search of any further anthrax contamination in congressional offices and postal facilities. The Ford and Longworth office buildings at the House of Representatives and the Senate's Hart office building remained closed, as did the mailroom in the Dirksen building. The Hart-Dirksen garage was scheduled to reopen on Monday.

About 68 tons of letters and other material from Washington were being trucked to a plant in Lima, Ohio, to be decontaminated with electron beams normally used to sterilize hospital equipment.

Dr. Gregory Martin of the National Naval Medical Center said that anthrax contamination discovered Friday at three congressional offices in the Longworth House Office Building was low level.

Workers in those offices and at the Supreme Court are being treated with doxycycline as a precaution, he said, and people who have visited the congressional offices where spores were found were also urged to seek the antibiotic. A Supreme Court offsite mail handling office also was found to be contaminated and Martin says doxycycline was being given to workers there.

The Washington health department reported that it was prescribing doxycycline to any new cases where people need preventive antibiotics and was switching current cases to that drug from Cipro, which had originally been recommended.

Walks said that doxycycline has fewer side effects than Cipro. CDC studies of the type of anthrax involves have shown that it can be treated with that drug. He added that the justices of the Supreme Court were being given doxycycline.

New suspicious letter

Anthrax turned up first in Florida -- where one man died -- and then in New York before striking Washington on Oct. 9 in a letter to Daschle.

Another suspicious letter turned up in Florida Saturday, when a letter on its way to U.S. Rep. Mark Foley's office in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., started seeping white powder in the local post office. The letter, which was handwritten and had no return address, was sent to an FBI lab in Miami to be tested for anthrax.

The two dead mail handlers worked at Washington's now closed Brentwood mail distribution center, which processes mail for federal agencies and the rest of the city.

The funeral for Thomas Morris Jr. of Suitland, Md., was held Friday and burial services for Joseph Curseen Jr., of Clinton, Md., were Saturday.

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