Trace amounts of anthrax have been found at a postal facility that sorts mail for Oxford, Connecticut, where 94-year Ottilie Lundgren mysteriously died of the disease last month. The source of her exposure baffled officials, who were investigating how she could have come in contact with tainted mail.
The spores were found on four sorting machines during tests at the Southern Connecticut Processing & Distribution Center in Wallingford, where about 3 million pieces of mail are processed daily for Oxford and other towns. Officials announced they found a single spore of anthrax on a letter sent to Seymour, a town near Oxford. The trace amounts were probably left on the machines when a letter passed through that facility on Oct. 11, says Jon Steele, vice president of the Postal Service?s Northeast Area Operations.
The Seymour letter did not contain anthrax. Connecticut Gov. John Rowland says the outside of the envelope was probably contaminated when it went through a sorting machine at a postal facility near Trenton, N.J. since it went through the New Jersey machine within seconds of one of the two tainted letters sent to Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. All three letters passed through the Trenton facility on Oct. 9.
?This finding is not a complete surprise,? says Steele. ?The public should not be panicked by trace elements occurring nearly 60 days ago.?
The Connecticut mail sorting machines will be decontaminated. The facility was tested 4 times and 389 samples were taken, before the anthrax was discovered. It was finally found using a special vacuum with a filter designed to trap minute particles. Five samples in that test revealed the presence of anthrax, says Mike Groutt, a CDC spokesman.
?This is a very small amount of anthrax,? says Dr. Joxel Garcia, the state?s commissioner of public health. ?The people of Connecticut should not be concerned about opening their mail.?
The other mysterious anthrax death, of Kathy Nguyen, age 61 on October 31, has not yet been solved. ?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,? says Mike Groutt, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tests have so far turned up no trace of anthrax at Nguyen?s home or workplace at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital. Similar searches of Mrs. Lundgren?s church, hair salon and businesses she was known to visit also turned up no anthrax.
?There still are no new pieces of evidence in the investigation of Ms. Nguyen?s death,? says New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. It?s likely she also received mail that went through the same tainted New Jersey sorting machine. However, so much mail is sent to the Bronx, where the victim lived, that the link may never be established.
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