Governor John Rowland said today that the letter, delivered a mile from the woman’s house, had a single anthrax spore on it and may have been cross-contaminated by anthrax letters sent to Washington.
Rowland said 94-year old Ottilie Lundgren may have received a similar piece of cross-contaminated mail and thus become infected. She died last Wednesday of inhaled anthrax in Oxford, Connecticut.
“I don’t think that anyone suspects that Mrs. Lundgren was a target,” Rowland said at a press conference today. “We all believe, again unscientifically because it’s not proven, that she was a victim of cross-contamination.”
A thorough search of the woman’s home and locations she visited uncovered no evidence of anthrax.
The contaminated letter was processed at the Hamilton facility near Trenton, N.J., on Oct. 9, the same day the contaminated letters to Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy were postmarked at that facility. It was found in a home in Seymour, Connecticut and is said simply to be a piece of personal mail.
Using envelope bar codes, authorities said the letter went through a sorting machine within seconds of one of the Washington letters.
While authorities suspect Lundgren was infected through cross-contamination, Rowland said that citizens of Connecticut have no need to fear their mail.
“Supposition on my part is that Mrs. Lundgren, at age 94, had an immune system far less than yours or mine, and that you and I could have handled her same piece of mail and not gotten sick,” he said.
He added that hundreds or thousands of pieces of mail may have “second or third-generation” contamination from those letters, but “but not enough to harm anyone or make anyone sick.”
The decontamination process
Back in Washington, DC, crews prepared to pump chlorine dioxide gas into the Hart Senate Office Building in order to remove anthrax spores.
The building was contaminated on Oct. 15 when an aid to Sen. Tom Daschle opened a powder-filled letter.
As of Friday evening, the office had been sealed off so the deadly gas would not escape during the overnight fumigation. The block outside the building was cordoned off so a laboratory truck could circle the building to monitor the air for gas leaks.
“The suite has been isolated, and the lines have been laid to introduce chlorine dioxide gas,” Lt. Dan Nichols of the Capitol Police said. “Everything’s going exactly according to plan.”
Other offices in the building are being cleaned using liquid or foam decontaminants.
Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said it is unlikely that they will be able to remove every spore from the building, but it will not be reopened until there is a high level of confidence that it is safe.
“This is new territory for both the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] and certainly for us. We haven’t had this experience before as a country in how you clean up a building like this,” he said.