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Mon, Nov 05, 2001 - Page 6 News List

FBI tests reveal anthrax spores inside mail hub

OUTBREAK Concerns spread as the bacteria were discovered at a postal distribution center in New Jersey and employees began taking antibiotics


The anthrax scare spread further late Saturday as deadly spores were discovered at yet another mail distribution center in New Jersey, while investigators in Washington studied a suspicious letter sent to the US Treasury Department.

The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services announced that one of the environmental samples taken by the FBI in the Bellmawr Mail Distribution Center last Wednesday came back positive.

A suburb of the city Camden, New Jersey, Bellmawr is located just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, which means that after outbreaks in New York and Washington, anthrax now has penetrated a third major metropolitan area.

All employees of the facility have been offered a 10-day course of antibiotics as a precaution, the department said.

Health officials focused their attention on the Bellmawr center after a Delaware resident who works there came down with skin anthrax, a less deadly form of the disease.

The patient, whose identity has not been released, is said to be recovering.

The Bellmawr case brings to three the number of New Jersey facilities affected by anthrax.

Earlier, traces of the deadly bacteria were discovered at the main Princeton post office and at a mail processing center in Hamilton Township, near the state capital of Trenton.

All tests from the West Trenton post office came back negative, although an employee of that office is recovering from skin anthrax, according to the state department of health.

As New Jersey postal workers anxiously swallowed antibiotics, investigators in Washington pored over a suspicious letter discovered late Friday at the Department of Treasury.

"It was postmarked Trenton, New Jersey, and our mailroom workers determined it was suspicious," Treasury Department spokeswoman said, adding that test results on the letter were expected tomorrow.

Anthrax-laced letters received last month by the offices of Senate Democratic Majority Leader Thomas Daschle and NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw were also postmarked Trenton.

The letter to Daschle contained a professionally refined anthrax powder that resulted in the exposure to the germ of 28 congressional staffers and police officers, according to congressional officials.

Making a sharp departure from previous statements of his administration officials, US President George W. Bush issued Saturday an ominous warning.

"Anthrax apparently can be transferred from one letter to another, or from a letter to mail-sorting equipment," he said in his weekly radio address.

Calling the anthrax crisis "a second wave of terrorist attacks upon our country," the president said investigators did not know yet whether the bioterrorist attack on the US had been conceived overseas or on US soil.

Meanwhile, the FBI examined suspicious powder found a day earlier on the dashboard of a car in Bethesda, Maryland, an upscale Washington suburb.

But officials believe the case was likely one of many hoaxes plaguing the country along with the anthrax outbreak.

In recent days, the Postal Inspection Service in cooperation with the FBI has moved forcefully to crackdown on hoaxers who officials say are distracting them from finding the real perpetrators of the bioterror attacks.

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