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Anthrax in America: Disease Still Plagues America

Aired October 29, 2001 - 10:34   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: We want to go back to New York City, where a mail facility has turned up anthrax bacteria on four different sorting machines. That discovery has fueled both anger and the threat of lawsuits.

CNN's Jason Carroll is live there this morning, bringing us up to date now.

Jason, good morning.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: An attorney for the postal union tells me this morning, Bill, that he will file a complaint with the federal courts. He wants the Morgan facility shut down while an environmental cleanup is being conducted. Health officials found traces of anthrax on four of the mail-sorting machines up on the third floor of facility.

Those very same health officials say that it is perfectly safe for workers to be here while environmental testing and cleanup is being conducted, but postal workers we spoke to this morning say they don't believe that; they believe a double standard is being applied here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You had the House of Representatives that closed down for a week. You had Sen. Daschle's office that closed down. And you had the U.S. Supreme court that just closed down the other day. So there is a double standard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I don't feel safe. But I have a family to feed. I have children. You know, I got to do what I got to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: Postal officials say that they have simply been following the advice from the CDC. They will have an opportunity to explain their position a little further later on this afternoon. They are planning on holding a press conference. Hopefully, at that time, we'll be able to get a better sense of how the environmental cleanup is being conducted here and what the status of that environmental cleanup is -- Bill.

HEMMER: Jason, Jason Carroll, in New York City. "The Washington Post" is reporting this weekend that the anthrax cases may not be tied to international terrorism. In fact, it says the malice could be homegrown. The paper is quoting investigative sources as saying a domestic group may be seizing on the fear generated by the attacks of 9/11.

CNN's bioterrorism analyst Javed Ali is in Washington with us to talk more about this.

Javed, good morning to you.

JAVED ALI, CNN BIOTERRORISM ANALYST: Good morning, Bill.

HEMMER: Happy Monday, for lack of a better phrase.

What do you make of this domestic connection here. How plausible?

ALI: It's a possibility, given the history that bioterrorism has in the United States. In the 1980s and 1990s, there were attempts by individuals and groups -- for lack of a better word -- to acquire, develop, manufacturer, and even attempt to try to use different biological agents. But even with that historical record, none of those attempts, either from trying to acquire an agent or trying to deploy them, was ever as sophisticated as to actual material we're seeing now or the level of coordination we are seeing.

HEMMER: Is there any reason to think that a domestic group may be in cahoots with al Qaeda, or is that simply fantasy.

ALI: I'm sure it's a possibility that is being explored by the investigators, but right, it's just clear what direction, with any clarity, is the real source.

HEMMER: I'm not an investigator, and I know you are not either, but it surprises, a couple weeks down the road here there still doesn't appear -- publicly, anyway -- that there's a single lead on this issue. Surprise you as well, or not?

ALI: It is surprising. We, at least those on the outside looking in, would have hoped that there would have been more leads today. But it just shows how complex and how difficult these investigations actually are, because not only do you have a law enforcement and an intelligence component to these investigations, but we now have a public health and medical component to them as well. There are just more clues and evidence that need to be sorted and sifted through.

HEMMER: We've been trying for a couple of days, tossing around this word "bentonite," Major Garrett talked about, this morning, the White House saying it was not present. Why is that critical at this point, Javed?

ALI: It would be critical, I think, the presence of that material would suggest an even higher level of sophistication with respect to chemical additives. HEMMER: What is that bentonite?

ALI: It's a chemical compound that can used to enhance the sort of aerosolability, for lack of better word, of certain material. If you add that material, it could, in theory, make your dried powdered biological material more easily aerosolized.

HEMMER: In other words, it float in the air. It would be weightless, it would not clump together, etc.?

ALI: Float in air and also stay suspended -- that's another critical component, not only for the material -- in this case, the anthrax spores -- to get aerosolized in the air, but then to stay and not settle to the ground or fall to the ground.

HEMMER: Andy Card, over the weekend, was saying and suggesting that more than one letter could still be out there at this time. I'm not sure if it would come as any surprise the fact that we haven't located it just yet. Would that surprise you?

ALI: It wouldn't surprise me. I think one thing the investigators, I'm sure, are looking into is whether the trace amounts of material that were found in all the different places in the Washington, D.C. area actually match the material that was found in the Daschle letter. So if you have that evidence coming forward, that would be suggestive that perhaps the material was indeed from that one letter sent to Sen. Daschle's -- or may not be.

HEMMER: As we talk about all this, we should remind our viewers that Tom Ridge is going to come out of the White House in 50 minutes' time, and possibly more answers on this and more.

Javed, thanks -- Javed Ali, live in Washington.

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