Anthrax Is Found In House Building

By Edward Walsh and Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, October 21, 2001

Anthrax was confirmed in another Capitol Hill office building yesterday, deepening the concern among congressional leaders as they pondered whether Congress should resume its normal work schedule early this week.

The latest finding was from a swab taken from a bundling machine in the mailroom of the Ford House Office Building, marking the first time that traces of anthrax have been found on the House side of Capitol Hill. The swab was taken Wednesday and the positive finding of anthrax contamination was confirmed yesterday.

In response, Capitol Hill medical officials immediately began trying to locate mailroom workers to have them tested for anthrax exposure. Officials said that they did not know how many employees were involved but that any who tested positive for anthrax exposure would be given antibiotics.

Federal authorities yesterday also continued their investigation of a postal route in West Trenton, N.J. Three contaminated letters were postmarked from Trenton, and a carrier on a 560-stop route in West Trenton has contracted cutaneous anthrax, which infects the skin. Officials said they believe three letters -- one sent to "Editor" at the New York Post, which New York police said last night had block lettering similar to contaminated letters sent to Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) and NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw in New York -- were mailed from that area. The unopened Post letter was postmarked Sept. 18, the same as Brokaw's, and contained a small amount of powder that tests revealed was anthrax.

Authorities seemed less certain yesterday that they had identified the precise mailbox where the letters had been collected.

Shortly after the Ford Building anthrax discovery, John Feehery, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), said that Hastert and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) would decide by the end of the weekend whether the House should reconvene as scheduled on Tuesday. But by later yesterday afternoon, there were strong indications that both the House and the Senate would be in session as planned early this week.

"Our intent is to be in session on Tuesday in the Capitol," said Erik Smith, a spokesman for Gephardt.

"The question is whether we're opening in the chamber or an alternative site," Feehery said. "I'm fairly certain we'll return to the chamber, but we'll have to see about the tests."

House aides said that while lawmakers may meet in the House chamber of the Capitol on Tuesday, it was possible that some House office buildings would remain closed.

Molly Rowley, a spokeswoman for Daschle, said that Senate leaders expected the Senate side of the Capitol to be open Monday and the full Senate to reconvene there on Tuesday. "No change has been made in the plans," she said.

Mail Handler Is Ill In another development, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams confirmed that a male employee of the U.S. Postal Service's Brentwood facility, which handles all mail to the District, was admitted to Inova Fairfax Hospital on Friday with an infection and flu-like respiratory symptoms similar to those caused by exposure to anthrax.

"This is the first person whose clinical picture makes us suspicious," said the city's chief health officer, Ivan Walks.

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© 2001 The Washington Post Company