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Zeroing In On Anthrax Attacks?

GENERIC Anthrax in mail stamp
CBS/AP
A Justice official confirms the FBI and the Postal Service were searching several residences Thursday in Wellsville, N.Y., and Lavallette, N.J., in the 2001 anthrax case.

"We have informed local authorities and public health people. It started at 8 a.m. this morning. There is no present danger to health," the official told CBS News Correspondent Stephanie Lambidakis.

In 2001, five people were killed and 13 others, including a CBS News employee, became ill when letters containing anthrax were sent through the U.S. mail.

Wellsville is about 55 miles west of Corning, N.Y., just north of the Pennsylvania border. Lavallette is on the New Jersey shore, but just 20 miles from the Trenton regional postal processing facility in Hamilton, N.J., that was closed due to contamination after the anthrax attacks.

The powder-filled envelopes, which went through the New Jersey facility, sent fear through a nation already shaken by the Sept. 11 attacks and left people worried about their mail.

After American Media Inc. photo editor Robert Stevens died from inhaling anthrax at a building in Florida, four more deaths followed from letters containing anthrax that were sent to media outlets and the Capitol Hill offices of Sens. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

Postal facilities closed, as did office buildings on Capitol Hill, where hundreds of lawmakers, staff members and others were tested and given an antibiotic.

At the Brentwood facility, two postal workers died from inhalation anthrax.

Although the postal center in Hamilton, N.J., was fumigated last October, it has not yet reopened.

Anthrax is caused by bacteria that can be passed from livestock to humans. The disease can affect the skin, the lungs or the digestive system. When treated appropriately, less than one percent of people with the cutaneous, or skin form, of anthrax die. But more than half of those who contract inhalation or gastrointestinal anthrax perish.

Last month, FBI agents combed laboratory suites at Fort Detrick — home to the Army's biological warfare defense program — on Tuesday, and a source said they were again looking for evidence in the 2001 anthrax attacks.

The base houses the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.

FBI agents have frequently visited Fort Detrick since the unsolved attacks, amid speculation that the deadly spores or the person who sent them may be connected to Fort Detrick.

Much of the speculation about a Fort Detrick connection has centered on Dr. Stephen J. Hatfill, a former government scientist and bioweapons expert who once worked at the infectious disease institute at Fort Detrick. The FBI has labeled Hatfill a "person of interest" in the case.

Hatfill has denied any role in the attacks. He has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington contending the government invaded his privacy and ruined his reputation by leaking information to the media implicating him in the attacks. His lawsuit seeks to clear his name and recover unspecified monetary damages.