94-year-old woman dies from anthrax

Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- A 94-year-old woman from rural Connecticut died of inhalation anthrax Wednesday, while the source of her infection remained a mystery.

Meanwhile, the Education Department reported Wednesday that small amounts of anthrax were discovered in the agency's mailroom, and officials awaited results of testing done on a large supply of deadly spores found in a letter addressed to Sen. Patrick Leahy.

Connecticut Gov. John Rowland said early Wednesday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had confirmed the Connecticut case after five sophisticated tests at the hospital and state health laboratory had indicated anthrax.

Rowland said the Connecticut victim, Ottilie Lundgren, lived in Oxford, a rural community of 9,800 people. Asked if she could have contracted anthrax in a letter or birthday greeting from the office of Sen. Christopher Dodd, Rowland said, "Pretty much anything is possible."

Trace amounts of the bacteria were detected in the mailrooms of Dodd, D-Conn., and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., but officials said they were so minute they did not pose a health risk.

Education Department officials said the results of the testing there "are consistent with the findings in other federal mail rooms that received mail from" the central Brentwood facility that processes mail for the city.

"The findings are low-level and secondary indicators and are not considered dangerous to the mailroom staff or to other" employees, the agency said. The mail facility was sealed and its ventilation system shut down.

In Washington, an FBI microbiologist, speaking only on condition of anonymity, said there were easily billions of anthrax spores in the letter addressed to Leahy, a Vermont Democrat. Scientists have said it could take 8,000 to 10,000 to infect a person with inhalation anthrax, the most serious form.

An investigator who found the Leahy letter in a trash bag of unopened congressional mail last Friday night could feel powder inside the envelope and 23,000 anthrax spores were detected in a two-minute scientific test of the plastic garbage bag being used to hold the Leahy letter, the FBI microbiologist said.

The Leahy letter was postmarked Oct. 9, the same date as a similar anthrax-tainted letter sent to Daschle, which contained a little less than two teaspoons of anthrax.

The Leahy letter still has not been opened as investigators, who already are convinced it contains anthrax, consider the best way to examine its contents without compromising possible evidence on the outside of the letter.

FBI officials believe the letters were sent by the same person, and U.S. Postal Inspectors say they believe that Leahy's simply was quarantined at an offsite facility near Capitol Hill when Congress suspended mail delivery.

Asked if the Leahy and Daschle letters are the only two with anthrax, Capitol Police spokesman Lt. Dan Nichols said, "That's what we know right now."

U.S. Postal Inspector Dan Mihalko said there is an "extremely high probability" that the Leahy letter initially was misrouted on Oct. 12 to a State Department mail facility in Sterling, Va., where a worker came down with inhalation anthrax. The misrouting could explain why the letter never reached Leahy's office, said Mihalko.

The Leahy letter was found Friday by the FBI and investigators from the Environmental Protection Agency in one of some 630 trash bags of unopened mail intended for Capitol Hill and held since the discovery last month of the letter to Daschle. About 50 of the bags had at least trace amounts of anthrax spores.

The outside of the Leahy letter appears virtually identical to the Daschle letter and bears the same fictitious "Greendale School" return address, all-capital block letters and other characteristics.

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