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Anthrax in America: Brentwood Post Office Facility in Washington Major Focal Point

Aired October 26, 2001 - 10:17   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: The Brentwood Post Office facility in Washington, a major focal point. It is Washington's central mail processing facility, and that is where once again we find Rea Blakey, outside there with us this morning.

What's happening today, Rea. Hello.

REA BLAKEY, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Bill.

It would appear that, in fact, the bacteria spread from this facility to a number of other facilities an the Washington area. We will take a look at a map right now so you can get a sense of the geography here. The Brentwood facility is in Washington D.C. There is anthrax, and a couple people ill, more in Sterling, Virginia, which is where the State Department processes its mail. Also in Langley, Virginia, where the CIA is located, there has been an insignificant amount, a trace amount of anthrax found at that mail processing facility, and also, in Silver Spring, Maryland, at a Walter Reed Army Institute mail room, there has been traces of anthrax located there.

Specific to the State Department, at least two employees, one of those in guarded condition, we're told. He's a gentleman who is a contract employee who actually handles bulk mail, but claims he has never been to this Brentwood facility. He is listed in guarded condition after going to the hospital on Wednesday, was sent home with tablet form Cipro. When results were done after the State Department, turned around within 48 hours, he was taken back to the hospital and given IV Cipro. Again, he is in guarded condition.

The State Department confirm there is a second individual who is at least being tested and/or treated for possible anthrax exposure.

Dr. Ivan Walks, chief medical person here in Washington, indicates there are at least 7,650 postal workers in the area who are being treated with Cipro. Not all of them have been tested, for obvious reasons. They want to make sure and get the treatment out to all people, and they say the nasal swabs are just inconclusive at this point.

But when asked about the blame game that's been going on, he says the only person to blame is the person who's responsible for sending the anthrax through the mail. Dr. Walks is also asking that only those who are considered at risk and have a relationship with this Brentwood facility or any of the other mail handling facilities in the area go and seek Cipro treatment at this time.

(AUDIO GAP)

At this point, there are approximately 10, 000 people, we're told by the U.S. Postal Service, who are on Cipro. Most of those people postal workers. There could be a number of private contractors who are seeking treatment through various facilities. Again, the CDC is trying to keep their coordinate secret so they have one solid number. Tom Ridge, the director of homeland security, indicates that at least 200 postal facilities up and down the eastern seaboard are being tested environmentally at this time, and they're just trying to keep an eye on the circumstance. But again, the increase of anthrax awareness at other facilities in the Washington area is causing some great concern -- Bill.

HEMMER: Rea, quickly to our viewers, we apologize, the audio was a bit muted on the soundbite we were trying to play.

But just to be specific, and maybe we can go back to the map you were showing, simply because traces are found at certain locations, does not necessarily mean that letters had been sent there. It is possible. It is possible that some mail that went to these locations bumped up against an anthrax letter back in the facility where you are, correct?

BLAKEY: You are absolutely correct, Bill. The real question then becomes, because this becomes a medical mystery, what is the exact line, the tracing, the science that gets that anthrax from one point to another. Previously, the public health officials and CDC in particular indicated, a, they didn't think anthrax could travel through an enclosed envelope, a sealed envelope.

Now at this point, we don't know if there are multiple letters, possibly more than one, if this is cross contamination. This is all one huge mystery that continues to unfold.

HEMMER: That it is. Rea Blakey, live in Washington, thanks to you. We will keep it in Washington and go to CNN's Susan Candiotti, who is tracking this.

What's new today, Susan? Good morning.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Bill.

Homeland security director Tom Ridge says the U.S. is up against a shadow enemy, one that is producing anthrax that has taken the lives of three people. Investigators are relying heavily on science to find the source of the bacteria. Especially intriguing, how a mail handler at an offsite State Department facility could have contracted inhalation anthrax, the only person outside Washington's Brentwood postal center to contract that most serious form of anthrax infection. Two mail handlers from that center died.

Along with a trace amount found at a CIA mail room, other positive hits include anthrax found on four sorting machines in Manhattan's largest mail distribution certain. That location could have handled anthrax letters postmarked Trenton that were delivered to NBC's Tom Brokaw and "The New York Post." That Morgan Center remains open. Employees are being given the Cipro antibiotic. All this as disturbing details are publicly revealed about spores found in letters sent to Senate majority leader Tom Daschle. Authorities call those spores, very dangerous, very pure, sophisticated, smaller than the others.

Sources tell CNN preliminary tests indicate the presence of additives. They would reduce static electricity and make the spores lighter and easier to hang in the air and more easily absorbed in the lungs.

By contrast, the spores in "The New York Post" letter are less concentrated and more coarse. One scientist comparing them to the consistency of Purina dog chow. Who is behind the anthrax? How it is produced, where it was acquired, all questions authorities cannot answer.

HEMMER: Susan Candiotti in Washington.

Susan, thanks.

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