Daschle Office Receives Anthrax

By Boyer, Dave | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 16, 2001 | Go to article overview

Daschle Office Receives Anthrax


Boyer, Dave, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Byline: Dave Boyer

The bioterrorism scare across a jittery nation spread to Capitol Hill yesterday as an aide to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle opened an envelope that tested positive initially for anthrax.

Capitol Police Lt. Dan Nichols said the letter, which was opened by a female staffer in Mr. Daschle's personal office about 10:15 a.m., contained powder. Two preliminary field tests on the letter were positive for anthrax.

The letter to Mr. Daschle's office in the Hart Building was postmarked Sept. 18 from Trenton, N.J., the same city from which a letter bearing anthrax was mailed to NBC anchor Tom Brokaw.

Meanwhile yesterday, more cases of anthrax and exposure to its spores were reported to authorities.

Two persons came down with the disease - the 7-month-old son of an ABC News producer and a 73-year-old mailroom employee at a Florida supermarket tabloid who already had been diagnosed with exposure to the anthrax bacteria.

The boy had spent time in the ABC newsroom and was diagnosed with the less-dangerous type of anthrax, which is absorbed through cuts or scratches in the skin. In Florida, health officials confirmed that Ernesto Blanco had contracted the more-deadly inhaled form of anthrax. His co-worker, Bob Stevens, 63, a photographer, died from the disease.

Also yesterday, New Jersey postal officials said a mail carrier and post office maintenance employee in Trenton, where at least two anthrax-tainted letters were mailed, have shown symptoms of the disease. Authorities found traces of anthrax in the Boca Raton, Fla., post office, which handles mail for the tabloid newspaper, where an editor died Oct. 5 of the disease.

Capitol Police quarantined 40 employees in Mr. Daschle's office as doctors tested them with nasal swabs to determine if they were exposed to the potentially deadly bacteria. About 50 people, including police officers who responded without protective suits, were given the antibiotic Cipro as a precaution.

"There was an exposure when the letter was opened," Lt. Nichols said. "This is a criminal investigation."

Capitol Police halted mail delivery to Congress and stopped public tours of the Capitol.

"We have a public safety responsibility, not only to the congressional community, but to the visitors within the Capitol complex," Lt. Nichols said. "Given the current situation . . . it was our decision that . . . it would be in everyone's interest to suspend tours of the United States Capitol."

The envelope was sent to an Army medical research facility at Fort Detrick, Md., for more sophisticated tests. Those results were expected to be available sometime today.

As authorities donning contamination-proof biohazard suits combed his office, a grim-faced Mr. Daschle told reporters he was "very disappointed and angered" that his staff had become an apparent target.

"They are innocent people caught up in a matter for which they have nothing to do," said Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. "I feel so badly for each of them."

The staff of Sen. Frank H. Murkowski, Alaska Republican, also called Capitol Police yesterday after receiving a "strange" envelope without postage. Mr. Murkowski said officers responded quickly, but then had to wait for an overworked police specialist to examine the envelope's contents.

"We were advised we were twelfth on the list," Mr. Murkowski said, referring to reports of suspicious envelopes in other lawmakers' offices.

Said Lt. Nichols, "We've had a number of suspicious package calls today."

As the Senate convened yesterday afternoon, Chaplain Lloyd John Ogilvie prayed for divine protection. …

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