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Anthrax discovered at Md. site

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Anthrax spores have been found at a postal facility in Landover that handles mail for the Justice Department, a department spokeswoman said last night.

Several places within the facility tested positive for anthrax, including locations that handle mail for Attorney General John Ashcroft, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and other leaders, said spokeswoman Susan Dryden.

Mail delivery at the Justice Department was suspended several days ago, and Ashcroft has not been tested for anthrax and is not taking antibiotics at this time, Dryden said.

But health officials asked Justice Department employees who frequently handle mail or have contact with the department's mail facilities to report to D.C. General Hospital today for a 10-day supply of antibiotics.

Justice Department mail passes through the Brentwood facility in Washington -- which remains closed after two Brentwood employees died of inhalation anthrax -- before being sent to the Landover facility.

Dryden said mailrooms in the Justice Department have been tested for anthrax. The results are expected by tomorrow.

While the search for anthrax broadened around the nation's capital yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed one diagnosis of suspected anthrax in New Jersey to definite after tests confirmed a woman, 56, who works in a mail processing center in Hamilton Township has the inhalation form of the disease.

At least five New Jersey postal workers now have suspected or confirmed cases of anthrax. Anthrax-tainted letters sent to Washington and New York originated there.

Amid uncertainty about the scope of anthrax contamination in the nation's postal system, health officials have widened the distribution of antibiotics to reassure worried workers.

Thirty-six postal workers in Baltimore and 50 firefighters in Trenton, N.J., joined the ranks of those taking antibiotics -- estimated at more than 10,000 people nationwide. With 13 confirmed cases of the disease, most of those workers in Baltimore and New Jersey are taking the drugs as a precaution.

Karen Black of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said health departments were urged to give the medicines to postal workers and others at some risk, however low.

"We were trying not to be rigid," Black said. "We didn't want to turn people away."

Pamela Somers, assistant director of the Baltimore Health Department, said nurses gave the antibiotic Cipro to all of the 36 postal workers who showed up at a clinic downtown. "We haven't had anyone who's sick. But everyone who has been here has had some reason for concern. ... We just want them to feel safe."

About 50 members of the Trenton, N.J., hazardous materials squad are on antibiotics after one member came down with an illness that might be anthrax -- or bronchitis. Battalion Chief Graham Smith of the Trenton Fire Department said the man, who is hospitalized, had been filling air tanks for firefighters who checked post offices for anthrax. The staffer never entered the buildings, so he didn't wear protective gear, Smith said.

"We don't even know if this guy was exposed," Smith said. "None of the sites we've been to have tested positive for anthrax and none of our guys have any ill effects. ...But the city [health department] thought it was best to be careful."

The precautions underscore concern that the anthrax tainting the postal system seems to spread more easily than experts thought possible.

At the Supreme Court, spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said about 400 court employees and others were tested for possible exposure to anthrax Friday and Saturday. Those tested were given six-day supplies of the antibiotic doxycycline. Depending on whether test results reveal any contamination of the court's main building, some of those 400 may be given 60-day supplies of the drug, she said.

Tests on the building began Friday night and continued through the weekend. Results were not available by last night, Arberg said.

Yesterday, White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. rejected criticism of the government's response. After an anthrax-tainted letter was found in the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, authorities waited nearly a week to start testing workers at the facility that processes mail for the Capitol.

"We have a brand-new threat to this country that almost no one could have anticipated," Card told NBC's Meet the Press.

Card said on Fox News Sunday, "There may be other letters that are stuck in the system."

The Associated Press and Sun staff writer Heather Dewar contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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