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Last Updated

06 Dec 2002

Source: New York Times, August 17, 2002.

Post Office Plans Tests for Anthrax in New Jersey


The Postal Service, concerned about the disclosure this week that anthrax spores had been found on Aug. 8 in a mailbox in Princeton, N.J., plan to conduct anthrax testing this weekend at two large New Jersey mail-sorting centers that may have handled mail from the letter box.

Diane Todd, a spokeswoman for the service, said yesterday that the agency had scheduled the tests for tomorrow at the two centers, the Monmouth Processing and Distribution Center in Eatontown and the Kilmer General Mail Facility in Edison. She called the tests "a precautionary measure.".

She added that the testing was separate from a continuing F.B.I. inquiry to determine how the anthrax spores got into the Princeton mailbox.

Chris Murray, an F.B.I. spokesman in Washington, would not discuss the agency's efforts to trace the origin of the spores.

On Monday, Gov. James E. McGreevey announced that anthrax spores had been found in a mailbox on Nassau Street, Princeton's main thoroughfare, but that the box had been removed and posed no danger to the public.

The box's mail went into the Hamilton Township sorting station until last October, when the station was closed after the authorities had determined that it had processed the anthrax-contaminated mail sent to Senator Tom Daschle, the NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw and The New York Post.

This week, investigators fanned out in Princeton, showing people pictures of Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, a Maryland biological warfare expert whom the F.B.I. has called "a person of interest" in its investigation into last fall's anthrax mailings, which killed five people nationwide. New Jersey has had six cases of anthrax, but none have been fatal, and no new cases have been reported since October.

It is not clear whether the spores found in the Princeton mailbox are genetically related to those found at the Hamilton sorting center in October, or whether they are a newer strain. State officials have referred questions to the United States Attorney's office in Newark, which has refused to comment.

Ms. Todd said that the inspections tomorrow would involve swabbing certain parts of the sorting machines and taking samples from other areas in the buildings. The swabs will be sent for analysis to the laboratory operated by the state's Department of Health and Senior Services, which has been studying the F.B.I. investigators' most recent swabs of mailboxes in the area.

The Monmouth and Kilmer sorting centers are handling the mail that normally would have gone through the Hamilton Township sorting center. As such, one of the two centers handled mail from the Princeton mailbox where the anthrax spores were found.

Ms. Todd said the gathering of samples was expected to take three to four hours, and state laboratory officials said results would be known in 48 to 72 hours.

The state laboratory, which has already tested about 600 swabs gathered from mail boxes and other locations by investigators, yesterday received an additional 76 swabs. Dr. Clifton R. Lacy, the commissioner of the Department of Health and Senior Services, said that only F.B.I. investigators knew the origin of the samples.

Dr. Lacy noted that the spore state of anthrax is the bacteria's dormant state. Once it finds nutrients and becomes active, he said, the manifestation of the disease is rapid, occurring within a week or two of contact.

"Since we haven't had any cases of anthrax since October," Dr. Lacy said, "we consider that these mailbox spores were not a danger to anyone in other postal facilities or anywhere else."