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Last Updated

15 Nov 2002

Source: Associated Press, December 2, 2001.

Anthrax Found at Conn. Post Office

By PAT EATON-ROBB, Associated Press Writer

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Trace amounts of anthrax were found at a postal facility that sorts mail for the town where a 94-year woman mysteriously died of the disease last month, officials said Sunday.

Ottilie Lundgren, of Oxford, was the fifth person in the nation to die since the anthrax scare began in October. The source of her exposure has baffled officials, who are investigating whether she could have come in contact with tainted mail.

The spores were found on four sorting machines during tests at the Southern Connecticut Processing and Distribution Center in Wallingford. The center processes about 3 million pieces of mail daily for Oxford and other towns.

The trace amounts most likely were left on the machines when a letter sent to Seymour, near Oxford, passed through the facility on Oct. 11, said Jon Steele, vice president of the Postal Service's Northeast Area Operations. Officials announced Friday they had found a single spore of anthrax on the Seymour letter.

"This finding is not a complete surprise,'' Steele said. "The public should not be panicked by trace elements occurring nearly 60 days ago.''

The tainted Connecticut machines will be decontaminated, a process that could take several days, Steele said. The center will remain open for business, he said.

The facility was tested on four separate occasions and 389 samples were taken, said Steele.

The latest round of tests involved a special vacuum with a filter designed to trap minute particles. Five samples in that round revealed the anthrax, said Mike Groutt, a CDC spokesman.

"This is a very small about of anthrax,'' said Dr. Joxel Garcia, the state's commissioner of public health. "The people of Connecticut should not be concerned about opening their mail.''

Connecticut Gov. John Rowland said the letter could have been tainted when it went through a sorting machine at a postal facility near Trenton, N.J.

Rowland said the letter went through the New Jersey machine within seconds of one of the two tainted letters sent to Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. All three letters passed through the facility on Oct. 9.

Also Sunday, health officials from New York and Connecticut met to compare notes about the anthrax deaths of Lundgren and a New York City woman who was also mysteriously exposed.

Kathy Nguyen, 61, died Oct. 31, becoming the city's first known victim of inhalation anthrax.

"It's a good chance for investigators ... to update each other on recent developments, compare notes and keep in close contact to see if there are any similarities or common threads,'' said Mike Groutt, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials from the health departments of both states, the FBI, and the U.S. Postal Service also were at the meeting.

Tests have so far turned up no trace of anthrax at either woman's home, or at Nguyen's workplace at Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital. No sign of anthrax was found at the church, hair salon or other businesses Lundgren was known to visit.

"There still are no new pieces of evidence in the investigation of Ms. Nguyen's death,'' New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said Sunday.