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Anthrax Detected at Bowling Air Force Base Mail Sorting Facility

Aired October 23, 2001 - 16:15   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.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news at this hour: White House announcing anthrax spores found on a piece of equipment at a mail handling site not, on the White House grounds, but mail destined, most of it, for the White House. Our senior correspondent John king has a little more information -- John.

JOHN KING: Judy, we can tell you, No. 1, that off-campus mail sorting site is at the Bowling Air Force base, which is in the District of Columbia several miles away from the White House. The mail initially goes through the Brentwood facility in the District of Columbia, there, where there have been two deaths attributed to anthrax and two more cases of inhalation anthrax diagnosed.

The mail goes from Brentwood to a special facility at the Bowling Air Force base. That is just because that mail is headed here to the White House complex. It received additional security testing there. It was a slitting machine, a machine that actually opens the mail that had a very small trace number of anthrax spores. Investigative sources telling us, while you were continuing your discussion with Elizabeth Cohen, that it tested very low for anthrax -- in the area of 20 to 500 spores.

These sources saying you get sick if there are 4 to 5,000 spores. It is lethal if there are 8 to 10,000 spores or above. So White House officials have been told by the investigators and by medical personnel that this is a very low level trace of anthrax.

There is no public health risks assumed but there will be some additional testing and treatment offered to people at the facility just in case. We are also told the reason the White House is saying it is completely confident that none of the spores made its way into the White House is that additional screening and other tests are done on mail at that facility, including efforts that would kill, if you will, the bacteria.

Now, the White House said earlier in the day, the postal service was rush to buy machines that irradiate mail, that way killing the bacteria. I asked specifically if that was the case here in the White House and was told we will not discuss in detail what we do, but you can assume that and other precautions are taken with any mail making its way to the White House.

One last point, officials say their operating assumption right now, is that somehow a letter or letters were contaminated while at the Brentwood facility and this was detected at the Bowling Air Force Base facility because all of the mail is opened there and there is no accumulation of powder, no one letter that had powder in it.

The operating assumption, we are told by investigative sources is that the letter or letters became contaminated at Brentwood with a very low trace amount of anthrax. And that's what turned up in the test this morning on the slitting machine at Bowling Air Force base. But the investigation obviously continuing -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, John, well, if that's the case, that would be good news.

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