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Tuesday, 23 October, 2001, 21:17 GMT 22:17 UK
Anthrax killed postal workers
Workmen in biohazard suits push equipment into a Congress building in Washington
There is still no clear link to the 11 September attacks
The scale of the bioterrorism threat to America grew on Tuesday when anthrax was confirmed as the cause of death of two postal workers in Washington DC and anthrax spores were found at a White House postal facility.

"We now know that the two deaths that were reported to you... are confirmed cases of inhalation anthrax," Washington's Mayor Anthony Williams said.

Cases confirmed
White House: anthrax trace found at postal facility
Washington: Two postal workers dead, two being treated
New Jersey: Two postal workers being treated
New York: One worker each at CBS, NBC and New York Post, and baby who visited ABC's offices being treated
Florida: Sun newspaper journalist dead, another being treated

One of the men died on Monday at a hospital in Clinton, Maryland, while the other died on Sunday at a Washington hospital.

The workers had been based at the post office that sorted mail for the US Congress and handled the letter containing anthrax which was sent to Senator Tom Daschle.

Two other workers at the post office, in the Brentwood area of the city, have also developed inhaled anthrax infections - the most deadly type of the disease - and are seriously ill.

The BBC's Washington correspondent says there is now concern that hundreds of postal employees have been working for some time in an anthrax-contaminated area.

Letter to Senator Tom Daschle
The chilling contents of the letter to Senator Daschle

A female postal worker at the New Jersey office where the contaminated letter was postmarked is also seriously ill with suspected inhaled anthrax.

New Jersey State Health Commissioner George DiFerdinando said at a press conference that the woman was in a serious but stable condition in hospital.

US law enforcement officials have said there is so far no evidence linking the 12 confirmed anthrax cases with foreign terrorists, although suspicion is focused on Osama Bin Laden in the wake of the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington.

White House find

Anthrax has been found on a mail slitter at a White House off-site postal facility, spokesman Ari Fleischer told a briefing.

The find at the remote site was confirmed on Tuesday and announced to President George W Bush, who said it showed again that America was fighting a "two-front war".

Mr Fleischer said the postal facility was located "miles" from the White House itself and mail passing through it had always been subjected to stringent checks. Environmental checks at the White House itself had proved negative.

Staff at the facility were now being "swabbed and tested", Mr Fleischer said.

The spokesman told reporters that the source of the anthrax was still unknown.

In other developments:

  • The United Nations says a military hospital in the western Afghan city of Herat has been destroyed in US air strikes, as the Pentagon admits three bombs went astray over the city
  • More than 1,000 British troops are being prepared for deployment in any potential ground war in Afghanistan
  • The Taleban confirm that Bin Laden is still alive
  • Baton-wielding police in the Pakistani city of Jacobabad beat back protesters demonstrating against the US military presence in the country
  • Pakistan and the Taleban agree to set up camps in Afghanistan away from the border for thousands of refugees
  • A Japanese man - thought to be a journalist - is detained by the Taleban in eastern Afghanistan

To fight the anthrax threat nationwide, US postal authorities have launched a $1bn security operation, which includes machines to bombard mail with radiation.

The latest deaths bring the number of people killed by the spate of anthrax attacks in America to three.

The death of the postal workers has shown that an envelope containing anthrax may not need to be opened to kill.

This has caused widespread alarm as it is not known how many people may have handled the envelope along its journey from Trenton, New Jersey, to Washington.

People are also concerned that their mail could have come into contact with the anthrax spores by touching the contaminated letter or machines that it had passed through.

At the US Capitol, anthrax has already been found on a mail-processing machine that handled the Daschle letter, and on a mail bundler.

The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"Public confidence has been dented"
Steve Cimbala, professor of political science
"There have been very mixed messages"
The BBC's Jane Standley
follows the anthrax trail to an apartment building in a suburb of Trenton, New Jersey
See also:

22 Oct 01 | Health
Warning over anthrax antibiotic
22 Oct 01 | Americas
New Yorkers anxious over anthrax
23 Oct 01 | Health
Progress in fight against anthrax
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