Anthrax spores found in U.S. post office at Pentagon, VA medical center

Traces of anthrax bacteria were found in a U.S. post office located in the Pentagon and in the mailroom of the Washington, D.C., Veterans Affairs Medical Center, agency officials said Monday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found anthrax spores on Saturday in two of 17 samples taken from a U.S. post office in the commercial area of the Pentagon, according to spokesmen for the Pentagon and the Postal Service. The mailroom at the Washington VA Medical Center also tested positive Saturday for a small amount of anthrax bacteria, according to Karen Fedele, a spokeswoman for the medical center. The Defense Department receives its official mail from a remote delivery facility. The post office located in the Pentagon concourse, which houses shops and eateries, is a "retail station" serving the general public, said the Pentagon spokesman, who spoke only on background. Anthrax spores were found in two postal boxes, one of which was rented by a member of the Navy, according to an Associated Press report. The Pentagon post office gets its mail from the Brentwood Road postal plant in Washington, D.C., which tested positive for anthrax spores last month and was closed down, according to the Pentagon spokesman. Two postal employees from that facility died of anthrax. The six employees who work in the post office in the Pentagon concourse were already taking antibiotics as a precaution, he said. Antibiotics are now being offered to the more than 200 people who rent boxes at the post office, Pentagon officials told The Washington Post Monday afternoon. The office was decontaminated on Sunday, and appeared to be "clean," but is closed for further testing. Fedele said the VA medical center has been regularly swabbing the surfaces of its mailroom for anthrax since the CDC issued its recommendations last month for handling mail. On Saturday, the medical center received positive test results for a small amount of anthrax in its mailroom and all five mailroom employees are taking antibiotics, Fedele said. "Everybody's healthy," and all mailroom employees are now wearing latex gloves and masks, she said. The Washington VA Medical Center currently houses 240 patients, according to Fedele. She said all the patients are safe, and that the risk of exposure to anthrax bacteria outside the mailroom is "extremely remote." According to the latest CDC statistics, there are 22 confirmed cases of anthrax and fours deaths associated with the inhaled form of the disease.

Anthrax spores have been found at several other federal facilities, including the Supreme Court; the State Department; a building that houses operations of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Voice of America; a building used by the Food and Drug Administration; the mailroom at the Walter Reed Army Institutes of Research; Walter Reed Army Medical Center; off-site mail facilities that serve the State and Justice Departments; a handful of Washington area post offices; and several House and Senate office buildings.