The discovery of trace amounts of anthrax bacteria in the mailroom at the Department of Education's headquarters prompted the temporary shutdown of all the agency's mail facilities in Washington.
The contamination has not led to any significant disruption of agency activities or any known cases of the potentially deadly illness, officials say.
Department officials were notified Nov. 20 that a security sweep of the mailroom at the department's main building turned up "positive traces in three of approximately 20 samples," said Dan Langan, a spokesman for Secretary of Education Rod Paige. But they were deemed "low level" and not dangerous to mailroom workers or other department employees, he said.
No anthrax bacteria were found at the six other Education Department mailrooms in buildings in Washington.
As a precaution, though, all the mailrooms were closed temporarily so they could be thoroughly cleansed of any potential anthrax contamination, Mr. Langan said. The mailroom cleanup was expected to be completed late last week, he said, and the mailroom reopened by Dec. 3.
In the meantime, a separate room at the headquarters building on Maryland Avenue S.W. was set up to receive and distribute regular mail, as well as parcels from couriers and other delivery services.
Mr. Langan said last week that there had been "no notable disruption" in the department's ability to work with states and school districts. He noted that for several weeks all mail to the department has been irradiated at a postal facility in Lima, Ohio. The same is true for other federal agencies, Congress, and the White House.
Mail-borne anthrax contamination was discovered on Capitol Hill in October. Since then, other incidences of such contamination have been reported in Washington.
Two employees of a U.S. Postal Service processing facility for the Washington area died of anthrax.
—Erik W. Robelen [email protected]
Vol. 21, Issue 14, Page 28