WASHINGTON—The mysterious figure who dropped four deadly, anthrax-filled letters into the mail in October 2001 made it relatively easy for the government to save lives.
The letters, inscribed with messages such as "Death to America," served as clear warnings that the fine powder should be tested. The powder's arrival in envelopes, rather than an aerosolized spray, limited the spores' dispersal.
While response workers were able to hold down casualties and cleanse a contaminated Senate office building, the attack dealt sobering lessons about how far the spores can spread and how lethal they can be.
A New York nurse and a 94-year-old Connecticut woman later died, apparently after coming in contact with contaminated mail, demonstrating that even small numbers of spores can kill people who aren't strong and healthy. Antibiotics were given to about 30,000 people.
Ultimately, moon-suited cleanup workers used chemical sprays to kill anthrax in 23 facilities, including trace levels in mail rooms at the U.S. Supreme Court, the CIA and a remote facility handling White House mail. The cost: $227 million.
Since the attack, the Postal Service has irradiated all congressional mail to kill spores and germs. Congressional mail now takes three weeks to reach Capitol Hill.
As for the perpetrator, the FBI has long suspected it was an American, perhaps someone involved in U.S. bio-terrorism research. Bureau Director Robert Mueller said recently that he remains "optimistic that we will solve the case," but he declined to discuss specifics.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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