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Last Updated

16 Aug 2003

Source: Newsday, August 16, 2003

Ark. letter processed in 2001 contained anthrax traces

By CARYN ROUSSEAU, Associated Press Writer

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- A letter delivered to an Arkansas family nearly two years ago contained small traces of anthrax, apparently from a New Jersey mail-processing center that handled other tainted letters, the state Health Department said Friday.

The family, which was not identified, is healthy and has no record of anthrax-related illnesses, the department said in a news release.

The FBI asked the department last week to test the letter after obtaining it in the criminal investigation into four anthrax-laced letters mailed in September and October 2001.

The FBI said the tainted letters were processed at a postal center near Trenton, N.J., and the Arkansas letter apparently was contaminated by one of the other four.

An FBI office in New Jersey asked Little Rock agents to obtain the letter as part of a random sample of mail that went through the postal facility on Oct. 9, 2001.

Postal service employees who may have had contact with the letter are meeting with authorities. But the department said preliminary reports indicate no one has become ill from exposure to the letter.

"Other than our lab personnel, the last direct contact with the letter was over 16 months ago," said Dr. Faye Boozman, the department director. "The last contact by postal workers was 22 months ago. Because the symptoms of anthrax infection occur within seven to 42 days of exposure, we are confident the health risk to any individual is negligible. We're months beyond the time when any potential illness might have occurred."

Nancy Rosenstein, a doctor with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said there is little or no reason for Arkansans to worry that they have contaminated letters from the same time period.

"We have detected no -- that's zero -- cases of anthrax that have occurred since the attacks in 2001," she said.

The Postal Service processing center in Little Rock has undergone several improvements since the anthrax attacks and tests for signs of anthrax spores were negative in November 2001.