Possible Ricin Find Closes Senate Offices
By JESSE J. HOLLAND
The Associated Press
Tuesday, February 3, 2004; 9:57 AM
WASHINGTON - Three Senate office buildings were closed Tuesday after a suspicious white powder, apparently delivered through the mail system, was found in the Senate majority leader's office. Officials said several preliminary tests - but not all of them - were positive for ricin, a deadly poison.
More definitive test results were expected later Tuesday.
"This is a criminal action," Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., whose staff discovered the white powder in their Dirksen Senate Office Building mailroom, said late Monday.
On Tuesday morning, he said, "Everything's under control. I feel real good."
Dirksen and the other two main Senate office buildings were closed Tuesday as authorities were to remove and test all mail that has been delivered there. Senate officials were hoping that process would take only a day, said one congressional official speaking on condition of anonymity.
The closures were forcing the cancellation of committee meetings scheduled for those buildings. But the Capitol was to remain open with the Senate convening Tuesday morning as scheduled.
The Senate continued its session, looking to debate a $317 billion highway bill.
"We're going to go forward with our schedule today," said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. "They're in the process of checking the buildings that have been shut shut down."
"The bottom line is that, given what happend before with the anthrax, we just want to take all precautions at this stage just to make sure there's nothing more," Kyl said, emerging from Frist's office Tuesday morning.
On the House side of the Capitol, mail deliveries have been suspended and Capitol Police have advised lawmakers not to open any mail. However, hearings and debate on the House floor were to proceed as usual.
There were no reports of anyone becoming sick from exposure as of Tuesday morning, the congressional official said.
At least 16 people on the floor were decontaminated, and others who might have been in the area were urged to contact Senate officials, Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer told reporters at a late Monday night news conference. The decontamination procedure was not explained, but witnesses saw some people emerging into the cold from a van outside the Dirksen building clad only in T-shirts and pants. One wore a white jumpsuit.
However, no one was expected to get sick, said Frist, who normally uses his Capitol majority leader's office instead of the Dirksen office. If symptoms of ricin poisoning have not surfaced in about eight hours, contamination is unlikely, said Frist, a surgeon before his election to the Senate.
A majority of tests conducted on the powder indicated ricin, Gainer said, even though some were negative.
© 2004 The Associated Press