WASHINGTON -- Employees at a Navy mail facility were offered
antibiotics Friday while authorities tried to confirm whether anthrax
was found there.
The five workers are being offered the antibiotic ciprofloxacin as a
precaution recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, said Cmdr. Conrad Chun, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon.
Officials closed the Navy mail-sorting offices and 11 other post
offices in and around Washington Thursday after an automated alarm
and one follow-up test indicated the possible presence of anthrax
spores at the Navy facility.
Further testing was being performed Friday at the National Naval
Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Chun said. An earlier follow-up test
Thursday indicated 138 anthrax spores were present, Chun said.
Preliminary tests for anthrax often are inaccurate and there have
been several false alarms since the still unsolved anthrax attacks in
The anthrax-by-mail attacks in late 2001 showed that inhaling only a
few spores, in some cases, was enough to infect some people with the
deadly disease. Five people died in those attacks, which also forced
the shutdown and cleanup of postal facilities in Washington and
The sampling equipment at the Navy facility is among the measures
meant to prevent a repeat of those 2001 attacks. Mail heading to
Congress and federal agencies also is irradiated to kill any germs
before it is delivered.
There was no indication that any of 1,200 to 1,500 other postal
workers affected were exposed to anthrax, and Postal Service
spokesman Azeezaly Jaffer said Thursday night that none had been
offered antibiotics as a precaution.
Jaffer said authorities decided "out of an abundance of caution" to
close the facilities and test them for any contamination.
Equipment that routinely monitors the air at the Naval Automated
Processing Facility in the District of Columbia indicated Wednesday
the presence of "small amounts of biological pathogens, possibly
anthrax," said Rachael Sunbarger, a Homeland Security spokeswoman.
After the initial field test, eight air samples were sent for testing
to a government contractor at Fort Detrick, Md., the Army's
biological defense center, according to Lt. Cmdr. Edward Zeigler,
spokesman for the Naval District of Washington. One sample tested
positive for anthrax and seven tested negative, he said.
Most of the mail moving through the Navy mail station was processed
by the Postal Service's V Street facility, which handles government
mail, and it was closed, Jaffer said.
Later, however, it was determined that a contractor that transported
the mail to the Navy site had also collected mail from 10 other
facilities in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. All
The contractor, Shaw Inc., participated in the testing.
Only a few people work at the automated naval site. Chun said the
workers wear protective clothing and that an air monitor worked as
designed. The Navy facility handles mail for a Navy base in
Washington and several other Navy offices in the area, Chun said.
Chun said the matter was being further investigated by the FBI, the
Naval Criminal Investigative Service, postal inspectors and others.