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Last Updated

13 Jul 2003

Source: Associated Press, July 12, 2003

Postal Anthrax Detection Test to Begin

By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A 15-city test of a new anthrax detection system at the Postal Service will begin Monday.

The test of the newly developed Biohazard Detection System will continue for four weeks, the agency said.

The test was originally set to begin May 30, but was postponed after postal officials concluded they needed more time to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local authorities in the test cities to develop guidelines for responding to test results.

The system uses rapid DNA testing to detect germs. It was developed in the wake of the anthrax-by-mail attacks in the fall of 2001 that killed five people and sickened many more.

The system was first tried out in Baltimore for several months and now will be tested at sites across the country.

Mail processing facilities involved in the test are: Dulles, Va.; Capitol Heights, Md.; Albany, N.Y.; Kilmer, N.J.; Manasota, St. Petersburg and Tampa, Fla.; Midland, Texas; Los Angeles; Tacoma, Wash.; Rockford, Ill.; Lancaster and Pittsburgh, Pa.; Cleveland; and Baltimore.

Postal officials said the sites were chosen because they represent a range of climates and environments, including rural areas where naturally occurring anthrax could exist due to the presence of livestock.

The system collects samples of air as letters move through mail canceling equipment. Airborne particles are then injected in sterile water and a DNA test is performed to determine if anthrax is present. The process is automatic, with tests occurring during each hour of machine operation.

Results are reported immediately to facility management, allowing for quick emergency response to any possible exposure.

The testing will take place during normal mail processing operations and will not involve the use of actual or simulated hazardous substances, the agency stressed.

Pending results of this test, the detection system is expected to be extended to other mail processing centers beginning next year.

Progress on the investigation of the anthrax attack has been slow, with FBI teams searching woods and ponds outside Frederick, Md., in recent months in an unsuccessful attempt to locate lab equipment that might have been used.

Frederick is home to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, where a bioweapons expert who has been questioned in the case once worked.

Meanwhile, the post office continues to irradiate mail addressed to government agencies.