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Anthrax scare in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS, Missouri (CNN) -- Authorities are investigating the possibility that a white powder inside a letter opened Monday in the Thomas Eagleton Federal Building in downtown St. Louis might be anthrax.

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"We ran a task force over there for an anthrax scare," said Fire Department Captain Bob Hennicke.

The letter, whose postmark indicated it had been sent from out of state, was opened at 1 p.m. (2 p.m. ET) in the building's central mail location, said Don Hines, chief of public affairs for the U.S. Marshals Service in Washington.

"Emergency protocols went into effect; the appropriate agencies were notified: haz-mat, fire, public health," he said. "They're on the scene right now conducting an investigation."

Four people -- all mailroom staff -- were in the area where the letter was opened, he said.

Five deaths in last year's attack

Last fall, more than 20 people became ill and five died following the mailing of anthrax-tainted letters from New Jersey. Some postal facilities remain closed because of the contamination. No arrests have been made despite a $2.5 million reward being offered by the U.S. Postal Service and FBI.

Roughly 5,000 interviews have yielded no suspect, but the FBI maintains it will find the person responsible for the fatal letters.

Four letters were recovered in connection with the incidents. Authorities believe at least one other letter -- never found -- passed through the postal system and led to the October 5, 2001, death of a photo editor in Florida, the first fatality.

In addition to letters sent to the offices of Sens. Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, two others were sent to the New York Post and NBC News.

The anthrax incidents -- which subsided after the November death of an elderly widow in Connecticut -- prompted significant changes in how the Postal Service handles and treats the mail, including the installation of new cleaning equipment and irradiation of mail sent to Congress.

In December and January, more than 250 Capitol Hill employees complained in various illnesses ranging from skin irritation to headaches and nausea after opening irradiated mail.

There is growing concern the United States is not prepared to handle a bioterrrorist attack.

Last month, Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, who is also a physician, said nine out of 10 public health departments in the United States do not have anyone trained in combating bioterrorism, and as many as one-third lack an Internet connection for fast communications.




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