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Wing of Senate Building Closed Amid Anthrax Concerns

Lt. Dan Nichols, Capitol Police spokesman told reporters, ”We don’t think it came in the ventilation system…We’re going to err on the side of caution on this.”

Senator Dascle’s personal office, in the Hart Senate Building, was closed yesterday after a white powder in a letter tested positive for anthrax in preliminary field tests.

More thorough tests at an Army medical research facility at Fort Detrick, Md. confirmed the powder was a very particularly potent form of the bacteria.

Daschle said that investigators told him that the strain found in the letter “clearly was produced by someone who knew what he or she was doing.”

Hundreds lined up in the Hart Senate Office Building on Tuesday for tests. Health officials wanted to test everyone who was in the southeast tier of the building because it shares a ventilation system with Sen. Daschle’s office.

About 50 members of Daschle’s staff, police officers and other workers were tested for anthrax exposure yesterday and are being treated with the antibiotic ciprofloxacin as a preventative measure. Initial tests have not indicated any expousure, but the official test results are expected tomorrow.

FBI Director Robert Mueller said today that the letter sent to Daschle had similarities with another contaminated letter sent to Tom Brokaw at NBC News. Both letters were sent from Trenton, NJ on the same day and the addresses were written in block letters. They also contained threatening messages.

The letter that arrived at NBC caused one cutaneous anthrax infection and four exposures.

Mueller said there is still no evidence that the recent rash of anthrax episodes is a product of organized terrorism.

The closure of the tier of the Hart building forced the shutdown of the offices of Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Paul Sarbanes (D-MD), Daschle, Robert Byrd (D-WV), Richard Shelby (R-AL), Richard Lugar (R-IN), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Arlen Specter (R-PA), Craig Thomas (R-WY), Max Baucus (D-MT) and Russell D. Feingold (D-WI).

Several committee offices were also closed.