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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Initial Field Tests Positive for Botulism, Plague

Aired April 22, 2003 - 10:48   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to get back to that breaking news story out of Tacoma, Washington where that mysterious white substance was found at the mail distribution center. Initial tests have been done, the results are in.
Let's bring in our Jeanne Meserve with more on that -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, I caution that these are initial field test results, and these initial tests are often incorrect, but I am told by Homeland Security officials that the agent that tested positive for botulism and plague. These are two biological agents, and further tests are being done at this time to determine if that is exactly what they're dealing with, or if this is something benign.

The Tacoma Fire Department Hazmat team was the first on the scene, responding to this. They called for help, and according to one Homeland Security official, the National Guard happened to be doing an exercise at a hospital right across the street, so they sent over their weapons of mass destruction team to do some further analysis, and they, of course, are on the scene right now.

It's interesting to note that back on April 9, the U.S. Postal Service announced that the Tacoma post office was one of 14 mail facilities in which they were going to be doing a 30-day test of some new detection systems, systems which they described at being exceptionally good at testing samples of deadly biological agents, but those tests were not scheduled to begin until June. We do not know at this point whether, perhaps, this equipment was in place earlier and that might have been what led to the detection of this white powder.

The Postal Service, of course, taking that step because of the anthrax letters which killed two postal workers in Washington, D.C. Two other women were infected and died from letters and, of course, a Florida employee of a tabloid was infected and although -- and died from this.

And although no contaminated letter was found, traces of anthrax were found in the mail room at the place where he was employed. Also, of course, those letters to Tom Daschle and Pat Leahy up on the hill.

Now, the office of Homeland Security says it is continuing to monitor this situation. Right now, it is in coordination with state and local officials, but no federal response at this point. They are still waiting to hear more definitively what exactly this substance might be. As I say, the initial field test testing positive for two substances, botulism and plague -- Daryn, back to you. KAGAN: Incredibly serious results, and as you said, these are just initial results, and more testing going on. Jeanne, any more information about the workers that might have been exposed to this?

MESERVE: No, the only thing I have been told by officials here in Washington that there were close to 100 people in that postal facility, and they have all been evacuated.

KAGAN: All right. Jeanne Meserve, bringing us the latest out of Washington, D.C. As you heard her say, the initial tests showing that that white powder found in the live picture you are seeing of this mail distribution center in Tacoma, Washington, is testing as botulism and plague, but as Jeanne was very careful to stress, these are initial tests. Many more tests taking place right now.

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