Nearly one year after an anthrax attack in the United States, the FBI is planning to enter a quarantined building in south Florida, where the first of several anthrax victims contracted the deadly bacterium. More than 10 months have passed since a photo editor at the American Media tabloid newspaper company died of anthrax in Boca Raton, Florida. He was the first of five anthrax fatalities recorded late last year in the United States.
An FBI investigation has yielded few answers and no arrests. To date, it is not known who was responsible for the outbreak. Now, the FBI plans to return to the American Media building, which has been sealed since last October, in search of new clues. "The reason is simple: the results of the evidence collection that was done last October were generally reported as either positive or negative for anthrax," says FBI Special Agent Hector Pesquera. "Since then, we have developed techniques that will allow us to determine the quantity and the distribution of the spores."
Unlike in New York and Washington, where letters were discovered containing anthrax spores, it is not known how anthrax was introduced into the American Media building.
Dr. Dwight Adams of the FBI says that question is one of several that investigators hope to answer during the next two weeks, as thousands of samples are collected from the Boca Raton facility. "Number one: we hope to do a very comprehensive, detailed assessment of the spore contamination throughout the entire building. Number two: a very detailed assessment with regard to the mailroom, in particular," he says. "Both of these efforts are [designed] to generate new leads in the criminal investigation. Number-three: we are looking for a dissemination device, such as a letter or letters, again, to generate new leads."
Dr. Adams adds that anthrax spores from the American Media building are to be compared with those discovered in letters sent to the Washington offices of two U.S. senators.
Florida health officials say the FBI's probe poses no health risks to the general public. Nevertheless, a Florida senator is calling for federal assistance to decontaminate the building, arguing that anthrax spores could be spread if the structure were damaged in a hurricane.