Congress Experiences Bioterrorism First-Hand

It was during a routine photo session when a reporter offhandedly asked if there were new reports of anthrax. To which the president responded, yes.

"I just talked to leader Daschle. His office received a letter. It had anthrax in it," said Bush.

As stunned reporters soon discovered, police had already blocked off Majority Leader Dashle's office and isolated staffers while hazardous-materials teams combed the area with special equipment. The alert was triggered when a staffer found powder in an envelope.

Daschle said, "Just as soon as it became clear that there was a suspicious substance in the envelope, we contacted the capitol police and the capitol physician."

The first tests confirmed suspicions and Lieutenant Dan Nichols from the capitol police said, "We conducted an examination of the material that was in the letter and it tested positive for anthrax. I should stress, though, that this is merely a field test. This is a preliminary test that we do in the field. It's a quick-and-dirty determination of what we are dealing with."

Like the envelope containing anthrax sent to NBC in New York, the one received here was mailed from Trenton, New Jersey. It was postmarked September 18th. How many of Dashle's staffers were directly exposed wasn't disclosed, but 50 were being tested.

Dr. John Eisold, a physician from the capitol, said, "They have been swabbed, and they will be tested to see if they do indeed have the spores. In the meantime, we'll treat them with Cipro."

The incident touched off reports of suspicious packages in at least 12 other offices here. There was no announcement that any of them contained anthrax, but as a precaution, capitol offices were directed to open no more mail. It is being collected and screened.

For the first time anyone could remember, public tours of the capitol were cancelled until further notice.

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