Skip to comments.Possible anthrax match found: Fatal strain may be tied to source from 1950s
Posted on 10/10/2001 3:00:57 AM PDT by JohnHuang2
Possible anthrax match foundFatal strain may be tied to source from 1950s
BY DAVID KIDWELL, MANNY GARCIA AND LARRY LEBOWITZ
Federal investigators believe they have traced ``unique characteristics'' of the anthrax that killed a Lantana man to a strain harvested at an Iowa facility in the 1950s, according to law enforcement sources.
But the sources caution that final results of tests to confirm the match are not yet finished.
``That's where we are headed, but the tests are not conclusive. We want to be sure,'' said a federal law enforcement official involved in the investigation.
Meanwhile, investigators confirmed that two hijackers who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks had subscriptions to tabloid newspapers published in the Boca Raton headquarters of American Media Inc., where photo editor Robert Stevens is believed to have contracted the fatal disease.
``We're not sure what to make of that yet,'' a source close to the inquiry said. ``It may mean absolutely nothing.''
At a high-level briefing Monday, investigators were told that the anthrax strand taken from Stevens had ``certain configurations'' that matched a specific strain among a series of strains on file at a national anthrax repository in Arizona.
Stevens, 63, who worked at The Sun, died Friday from inhalation anthrax, a rare form of infection that claimed a total of 18 lives in the 20th Century. Federal investigators have quarantined the building and begun anthrax tests on employees.
CAN BE TRACED
Investigators say the anthrax strain can be traced to the Iowa facility, but that the specific version of the bacteria may have been widely distributed to researchers. They declined to identify the facility.
Investigators are conducting tests to compare the anthrax strand to those kept at a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lab in Arizona.
If the match is confirmed, any hope that the deadly anthrax was contracted by accident would be lost.
``It's like a ballistics test,'' said a law enforcement investigator familiar with the case. ``We know a manufacturer samples every barrel of a weapon sold and you can eventually trace it back to the manufacturer.''
Experts on bioterrorism confirmed that molecular biology specialists can tell whether a particular strain of anthrax resembles strains recovered elsewhere, such as from dead livestock or soil or those stored in laboratories or strain ``libraries'' in the country.
Raymond Zilinskas, senior scientist at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, said Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Ariz., and Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M., have collections of anthrax ``sequences'' from around the world.
Specialists can determine the precise genetic sequence of anthrax strains and compare them to anthrax types stored in the libraries, Zilinskas said.
Anthrax bacteria, like all living things, show different features related to different strains, and biology detectives can track those characteristics in a given strain's DNA.
As a result, some of the experts said, scientists can tell whether a strain, for example, came from a specific region where a sample from a dead cow or soil was found.
``What the investigators are probably doing is trying to match the genetic makeup of the strain recovered from Stevens with one in the collections,'' Zilinskas said.
In other developments Tuesday, the investigation's focus sharpened on a possible workplace incident at the offices of American Media, which publishes The Sun, The National Enquirer and several other tabloids, after no signs of anthrax turned up in environmental tests performed at Stevens' home.
FAMILY IN CLEAR
Stevens' family is no longer receiving antibiotics and appears to be in the clear, said Tim O'Connor, spokesman for the Palm Beach County Health Department.
Officials are still awaiting further environmental tests from parks, stores, restaurants and other places that Stevens frequented, he said.
By Tuesday, a total of 770 employees and visitors to the American Media building in Boca Raton had been tested for anthrax exposure and treated with antibiotics.
A Health Department official said of the roughly 300 employees, 70 still had not reported for testing. The department is contacting those employees.
Results of the nasal swabs taken from the 770 people should be available in the next two to three days, said state epidemiologist Steven Wiersma.
Meanwhile, the group is being scheduled for follow-up blood tests within the next week, Wiersma said. Nasal swabs will give health officials evidence of anthrax exposure while the blood test will tell them whether antibodies are developing -- suggesting that spores were present at some point, perhaps before antibiotics were administered.
The blood results may take two to three weeks to come back, a delay caused primarily by the large volume of materials being tested in the public health and criminal investigations, Wiersma said.
NO NEW CASES
Palm Beach County Health Department Director Jean Malecki said there are no known new cases of exposure.
She said authorities are still awaiting results of a second round of testing on American Media librarian Martha Moffett, who was hospitalized for chronic bronchitis last week and cleared during an initial test for anthrax. ``She's well, she's fine,'' Malecki said.
Malecki said that the Health Department still has plenty of antibiotics -- tetracycline, amoxicillin and ciprofloxacin -- for the AMI employees and visitors.
The drugs were flown into Palm Beach County from federal stockpiles.
Many who showed up at the Palm Beach County health clinic in Delray Beach for testing Tuesday appeared to be people who visited the AMI building but did not work there.
``I was working there before the cutoff period [for testing],'' said Andrea Rollin, a former freelance writer for The Star, ``but I just wanted to make sure.''
Others were more irked than concerned.
``The whole situation makes me kind of angry,'' said Erica Franzen, who visited the building once after Aug. 1, the cutoff point for testing, to work on a college project.
As investigators worked to solve the medical mystery, nationwide hoaxes kept emergency officials busy. One false alarm even struck the Palm Beach County health center.
Crews from Delray Beach Fire-Rescue responded to the center shortly after 2 p.m. after employees called 911 and reported that an envelope containing white powder was found on a back stairwell.
A preliminary investigation determined the powder was sheetrock dust from ongoing construction.
``We really need everyone to not get oversensitive to these issues,'' said Delray Beach Fire-Rescue Division Chief Russ Accardi.
Investigators hope to complete their investigation of the American Media building today and possibly begin dismantling parts of the makeshift city of investigative structures at the site.
But it was unclear when employees will return to the building at 5401 Broken Sound Blvd. NW, which has been shuttered since Monday.
Herald staff writers Alfonso Chardy and David Green contributed to this report.
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I doubt the hijackers had access to that supply, or at least direct access.
Odd, if so, because there should be sufficient natural anthrax in the Iraqi herd.
Odd, if so, because there should be sufficient natural anthrax in the Iraqi herd.
Interesting. One of the arrests relating to 9/11 was of an Arab guy in Iowa. Iowa Connection?
Many specialized newspapers dont do their own printing, and many of those who do so do it at a different physical location than the one where their newsroom staff is employed. Modern digital transmission capabilities even allow for the press and camera rooms to be located in separate locations. (although generally they will be located together)
Add to this the physical nature of modern offset printing (ultra high-speed passage of fresh, very tightly rolled paper through the press) and concerns about "Dust trapped between pages" can be largely dismissed.
Which is not to say that a newspaper can't be used as a delivery vector for anthrax spores, a determined group could do this. But it would almost certainly require the compromise of the print shop, with terrorists hand-sifting the spores into the finished newspapers pages after the printing and folding processes have been completed.
"Investigators don't know why Hmimssa, who was arrested last Friday in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, bought the computer equipment or whether he had any connection to any suspected terrorist activity."
Where the heck are these 70 people?
Somebody must also explain to the Moslems that after you've ordered suicide attacks which even the desperate Japanese were troubled at doing, after you've launched those attacks in civilian clothes from inside the targeted country, and after you have launched the attacks anonymously without so much as an immediate explanation even afterward, there is only one threshold left to cross, and that threshold is CBN attack.
If that threshold is well and truly crossed by an attack causing thousands of casualties in America, and if moslems are still dancing in the streets or even smiling about it, the question of what good all those nukes in our arsenal are will be asked in earnest. And that beforehand is the time to have an answer ready--something a little more substantive than, "the check is in the mail."
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