San Diego Union-Tribune

November 11, 2001

Traces of anthrax spores found in Feinstein office; no risk seen

3 other lawmakers' offices also affected


WASHINGTON -- Trace amounts of anthrax were found in Sen. Dianne Feinstein's office late last week, but no danger is seen to the senator or her staff, a spokesman said yesterday.

The anthrax spores were found in a mail-sorting area of the California Democrat's office, which has been closed since Oct. 17. They are believed to be the result of cross-contamination from an anthrax-laden letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle last month.

Small amounts of the bacteria also were discovered late Friday in the shuttered offices of Sens. Bob Graham, D-Fla., and Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.

The health threat to those lawmakers and their staffs also is considered minimal, Capitol Police Lt. Dan Nichols said. Officials at the Centers for Disease and Prevention are not recommending antibiotics for anyone who may have been in the areas, Nichols said.

Feinstein, Graham and Craig have offices in the Hart Senate Office Building, where the Daschle letter was opened Oct. 15. Cummings' office is in the Longworth House Office Building across Capitol Hill, where three other offices earlier were found to be contaminated.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., also has an office in the Hart building, but no anthrax has been found there, a spokesman said.

After the anthrax was discovered in the Daschle letter, everyone in Feinstein's and Boxer's offices was tested for anthrax exposure and given precautionary antibiotics. No one tested positive in either office, spokesmen said.

Feinstein met with members of her staff and a doctor from the Capitol physician's office at her Washington home yesterday afternoon.

"We were advised by the Senate attending physician that the medical risk is virtually zero and no additional tests or treatments are recommended," Feinstein said after the meeting. "No (staff) members have reported any medical problems that can be associated with anthrax.

"We will, however, continue to monitor the situation very closely, and we have been advised by the attending physician to seek medical consultation if any symptoms of anthrax become apparent."

Craig said in a statement that his office "made immediate arrangements" to have staff members tested "and to have antibiotics available (Friday) night if they felt it necessary."

The latest discovery of contamination on Capitol Hill came after days of relative quiet on the anthrax front. It underlined the continuing uncertainty of the situation as officials struggle to decontaminate the office buildings.

All six of the buildings were closed and tested after the discovery of anthrax in the letter sent to Daschle. Only the Hart building remains completely closed.

The anthrax spores in Feinstein's office were found in a mail room that is on the fourth floor of the Hart building, said Howard Gantman, the senator's press secretary. Feinstein was notified of the discovery late Friday night.

Cummings' office in the Longworth building had been closed because it is next to an office where anthrax previously was discovered. The other contaminated Longworth offices are those of Reps. John Baldacci, D-Maine; Rush Holt, D-N.J.; and Mike Pence, R-Ind.

Senate leaders had planned to decontaminate the Hart building with chlorine dioxide gas and reopen it by Tuesday. However, that plan was canceled after questions were raised about its effectiveness. It is uncertain now when the building will reopen.

Feinstein and Boxer are working out of makeshift offices in the Capitol and other temporary spaces in the area.