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Anthrax found in ventilation system
America's House of Representatives was being evacuated tonight after 29 workers tested positive for anthrax exposure and spores were found in a ventilation system.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd., 17 October 2001
Experts search Tom Daschle's office for more deadly anthrax spores In a disturbing new development, public health officials uncovered what may be an attempt to inflict mass infection on American legislators. Up until now, the anthrax attacks which have caused widespread US panic were thought to be limited to powder sent to target individuals and buildings through the post.
As the crisis grew, 200 more people, including senior Congress members, were prescribed antibiotics as a precaution, while senior Senate leaders were in talks to decide whether to close the upper house of Congress.
Dennis Haster, speaker of the House of Representatives, said: "It has got through the ventilation system. It was also found in the Senate mail room.
"We do not know what has come through our postal machines. We do not know what has been distributed. We think it is prudent to take some time to go through and make sure this building
is environmentally safe." One letter containing anthrax was addressed to Tom Daschle, the leader of the majority Democrats in the Senate. The 29 who have tested positive for exposure to the potentially deadly spores include members of his staff and two police officers.
US officials are now "presuming" the spate of anthrax attacks is linked to Osama bin Laden, even though they as yet have no "credible evidence" they are the work of terrorists.
Tom Ridge, White House director of homeland security, said fighting bio-terrorism is America's top priority in the weeks ahead.
There is not yet " credible evidence" to tie the attacks, which have claimed one life, to Bin Laden's al Qaeda network, he told NBC's Nightly News, "but we ought to operate under the presumption it is".
Signs are increasingly pointing to the attacks being the work of a well-organised group. The letter to Mr Daschle has been linked to the same source as one sent to NBC News television anchor Tom Brokaw in New York.
Both letters appear to contain anthrax so pure it can only have been made as part of a biological warfare programme. The FBI says the two letters have the same New Jersey postmark and handwriting, and contain similar anti-US messages.
Elsewhere in the US, four people are known to have contracted anthrax - including a seven-month-old boy - and nine others have tested positive for the bacteria. Investigators have so far failed to discover how Robert Stevens, a British-born picture editor in Florida who died of the disease, contracted anthrax.
-- PHO (firstname.lastname@example.org), October 17, 2001