29 October 2001
Transcript: Tom Ridge, Other Federal Officials Brief on Anthrax
(A "very aggressive" investigation continues, Ridge says) (4760)
The federal government is continuing a "very aggressive" investigation
into the source of anthrax tainted letters, Homeland Security Director
Tom Ridge told reporters at the White House October 29.
"The belief within the administration is to basically leave no stone
unturned," he said.
"It continues to be a very aggressive, ongoing investigation. There
are a lot of theories out there; we just need some facts to turn a
theory into reality," said Ridge.
The newest building found to be contaminated is the Cohen Building in
Washington located at the foot of Capitol Hill, he said. It houses the
Food and Drug Administration and the Voice of America.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said the Cohen
building has "been presumptively positively tested for anthrax" and
all the individuals in the mail room are on antibiotics and the mail
rooms there have been closed down.
Presumptive positive, he said, means that the environmental testing
will now go to laboratories at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
in Atlanta, for further tests. Results from those tests will be sent
back within the next 24 to 48 hours, he said.
The United States Postal Service continues to work "on a 24-hour pace
to isolate, treat and remediate any and all contaminated sites," Ridge
said. They are also working with the White House "as rapidly as
possible to restore service to the affected areas and to clean up any
mail that may have been contaminated," he said.
Tom Day of the U.S. Postal Service said "in the D.C.-Baltimore area,
we have over 6,000 employees on antibiotics; and in the New York-New
Jersey area, nearly 7,000 employees on antibiotics."
The Postal Service started this past weekend in Lima, Ohio to
irradiate the mail, said Day. "We've been working closely with the
President's Office of Science and Technology to coordinate with other
federal agencies to ensure that the level of irradiation that we're
applying to this mail can give us a high degree of confidence that
we're dealing with the threat," he said.
Pat Meehan, a CDC physician said results so far in the ongoing
investigation "suggests to us that it's starting to look like
non-governmental mail was minimally affected by this so far.
"As of this morning," Meehan said, "we continue to have 12 confirmed
cases of anthrax; six suspect cases. And the good news is that there
have been no new confirmed cases in the last couple of days. Although,
I have to tell you that one of the suspect cases in New Jersey is of
concern to us and could move to the confirmed category in the near
Following is the White House transcript:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
October 29, 2001
PRESS BRIEFING BY HOMELAND SECURITY DIRECTOR TOM RIDGE, HEALTH AND
HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY TOMMY THOMPSON, CDC EMERGENCY ENVIRONMENTAL
SERVICES DIRECTOR, DR. PAT MEEHAN
Room 450 The Dwight D. Eisenhower
Executive Office Building
11:52 A.M. EST
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to today's
briefing on homeland security. One of the things that you'll note in
the President's schedule today is that he will be meeting with the
homeland security team, the principals, later on this afternoon.
You should know that during the past several weeks I have been meeting
on a daily basis, along with individual members of the homeland
security team, but we have begun to formalize that process. And even
though the President has been in touch with us on a constant basis, we
decided to formalize it. And we'll probably have some action items
coming out of today's homeland security meeting, so stay tuned; we'll
probably be back to you later on this afternoon.
The President has been conducting a 24-hour war on terrorism, not just
with our troops located in Afghanistan, and with the eyes of this
country toward Afghanistan, but it's been a 24-hour a day war on
terrorism here in the United States. And there have been so many
elements and so many agencies that have been involved in this process.
And what we intend to do in the days and the weeks ahead are to bring
some of these major players to this briefing room from time to time on
a regular basis to deal with the questions that you might have. As I
said before, as we continue our round-the-clock war on terrorism at
home, we think it's very appropriate to bring some of these principals
together on a regular basis to respond to questions that you might
have and, obviously, some questions that people in America have, as
Today, joining me from the Department of Health and Human Services is
my friend and former colleague, Tommy Thompson. And he is joined by
Dr. Pat Meehan, the Director of Emergency Environmental Services with
the Center for Disease Control. And I've asked them to give you an
update this morning.
SECRETARY THOMPSON: Thank you very much, Tom. And good morning to all
the reporters here. I just would like to briefly update you on the
efforts of the Department of Health and Human Services. And currently,
the Department of Health and Human Services has 575 individuals in the
field, responding to acts of threats of bioterrorism. And these
wonderful, dedicated employees are helping state and local officials
in Washington and New York, New Jersey and Florida.
And as officials in these affected communities know, more resources
and help are only a phone call away.
We're going to be very aggressive, as possible, in responding to acts
of threats or bioterrorism. We understand that people are very
concerned about anthrax. And we're going to continue to respond with
the personnel, the expertise and the medicine necessary to deal with
these acts and threats of bioterrorism. We're going to err on the side
of caution. We're doing our best to get help to those at risk of
anthrax exposure as quickly as possible.
And we're also working as aggressively as we can to strengthen our
response capabilities. We know we have to get stronger, and we're
working with the Congress to ramp up as quickly as possible. Americans
should know that we have the best scientists, the best doctors and
bioterrorism experts in the country helping us in this endeavor. We're
learning more each and every day, and we're becoming stronger each and
every day. And we're going to keep working our hardest to tackle this
new challenge facing our country. We are determined, and we will not
be deterred in our efforts.
We appreciate the hard work and dedication of our partners at the
state and local level, as well. And as the medical community, they're
doing a good job of identifying cases that might be anthrax, so that
precautionary measures can be taken, and that we might respond as
quickly as possible.
We also have reached an agreement with all those individuals dealing
with the flu vaccine, and it will be delivered on time, and we will
have an increased amount of about 5 million doses. So we will have 85
million doses of vaccine for flu that will be sent out to the clinics
and to the hospitals in the month of November, and hopefully all will
be sent by the first week in December.
In regards to the most recent update on anthrax, the Cohen building
has been presumptively positively tested for anthrax this past couple
days, and all the individuals in the mail room are on antibiotics. And
we are letting all the individuals know the mail rooms have been
closed down. But presumptive positive means that the next -- the
environmental testing will now go to the CDC labs in Atlanta, and that
conclusion of those -- of that information will be sent back within
the next 24 to 48 hours.
With that, I'd introduce Pat Meehan.
DR. MEEHAN: Good morning. As of this morning, we continue to have 12
confirmed cases of anthrax; six suspect cases. And the good news is
that there have been no new confirmed cases in the last couple of
days. Although, I have to tell you that one of the suspect cases in
New Jersey is of concern to us and could move to the confirmed
category in the near future.
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Now, our partners in the United States Postal Service
continue to work, likewise, on a 24-hour pace to isolate, treat and
remediate any and all contaminated sites. They are also working with
as rapidly as possible to restore service to the affected areas and to
clean up any mail that may have been contaminated.
The United States Postal Service had a difficult weekend, as they laid
to rest two of their own members. A very difficult weekend for the
family and the larger family, the Postal Service community. So we
remember them in our prayers and, likewise, ask Tom Day, who is Vice
President for Engineering, to join us, from the Postal Service, to
give you an update.
MR. DAY: From the Postal Service standpoint, we have continued our
downstream testing of facilities. In the D.C.-Baltimore area, we have
over 6,000 employees on antibiotics; and in the New York-New Jersey
area, nearly 7,000 employees on antibiotics.
As our testing does find any hot spots, and that has been limited, we
then move forward to decontaminate those facilities. Nothing to add in
terms of new hot spots found.
In terms of irradiation of the mail, we started this past weekend in
Lima, Ohio, to irradiate. We've been working closely with the
President's Office of Science and Technology to coordinate with other
federal agencies to ensure that the level of irradiation that we're
applying to this mail can give us a high degree of confidence that
we're dealing with the threat.
We'll continue to work towards that and study it. The mail is a very
-- various products that go through there, so it does not have the
homogeneity that you might find in some of the testing that's been
done with both food processing and medical sterility. And up to this
point, that's where that type of technology has been used.
So we'll work closely with them. We've set a very high dose level that
we believe gives a high degree of confidence. And we're also doing
extensive quality assurance with the company that what they are
applying does prove to be very effective.
Also with the same company, we have contracted for eight of those
systems. We are looking to deploy them to facilities where we can then
put the mail through and not have to transport it great distances
outside of this area. And we're looking to get even more capacity, if
possible, to increase the ability to irradiate mail.
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Joining us today, as well, in case you have any
questions -- I think some of you have been with us before when we've
had Major General John Parker, Commanding General of the United States
Army Medical Research and Materiel Command Center. But we also have
Dr. John Marburger, the Science Advisor to the President, Office of
Science and Technology Policy.
Q: Governor, let me ask you something. First it started out that the
medicine of choice was Cipro. Then we heard doxycycline is also as
effective. I want to ask you about, how about regular penicillin? Can
anybody say? Are there three interchangeable --
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I will defer to a medical expert to give you the
answer on that.
DR. MEEHAN: Generally, the two top drugs that we recommend are
ciprofloxacin or another drug in that category, but specifically
ciprofloxacin and doxycycline. After the organism is isolated and we
do antibiotic sensitivities, we can ascertain, we can figure out if
the particular organism is sensitive to a broad range or not. We tend
to go to doxycycline because of the simpler dosing, and because that
is what we have lots of in the national pharmaceutical stockpile and
we can make it available to people readily for rapid implementation of
What we have done is figured out that the isolates so far have
entirely been sensitive to doxycycline, so that, essentially,
ciprofloxacin and doxycycline are interchangeable.
Q: But penicillin does not have the same effect?
DR. MEEHAN: Penicillin, I would need to look at the antibiotic
sensitivity profile on these. Penicillin may work fine for these. I've
only concentrated on those two because that's the two that we're
offering on a regular basis to people.
Q: Governor Ridge, Dr. Koplan from the CDC said late last week that it
was his belief, given the pattern of exposure of anthrax, that there
had to be another letter that had not been discovered yet, making its
way through the postal system. I'd like your thoughts on that. And
also, what can you tell us about the possible presence of bentonite or
aluminum silicon in the sample of anthrax that was discovered at
Senator Daschle's office?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: With regard to the investigation surrounding the
Brentwood Post Office and the one letter to Senator Daschle's office,
the FBI has secured its own independent facility to run the mail that
had been basically sequestered, after we discovered that they had --
there was anthrax contained in one letter. And they are in the process
of investigating to determine whether or not there are additional
With regard to your second question, I'm going to ask General Parker
to give you an update. There is, just to give you -- there has been
one test that has been completed, and other tests are being conducted.
And I will let the General explain to you the science of both.
MAJOR GENERAL PARKER: Good morning. I won't go through what we already
know. There seems to be a lot of questions about bentonite. I'm not
sure where they're coming from, or their importance. But if you ask
what is bentonite, it's a volcanic clay. And one of its principle
ingredients is aluminum. And it varies in percentage of aluminum. And
we have subjected the New York Post sample and the Daschle sample to
very high energy x-ray studies, and I will say to you that we see no
aluminum presence in the sample.
And, therefore, if you go back to the definition, MERK Index, the
Internet, and geology centers all over this country, we can say that
there is no bentonite in the New York Post sample or the Daschle
Q: To follow up, what does that say about the level of sophistication,
and obviously connected to that, the level of expertise needed to --
for something like this, if it doesn't have --
MAJOR GENERAL PARKER: Bentonite is a lubricant. That's all I know
about it by reading, just like you read. It's a hydroscopic compound.
I don't know what its significance is, and I've been asked to study
the samples thoroughly, from A to Z, to know what's in the sample,
what's the character of that anthrax, what its family lineage is, and
what it's antibiotic sensitivities are. And I feel very strongly that
the scientific data that I'm giving to you this morning is all I know.
Q: Does that suggest then that there was no additive, there's been
nothing in the spores to make them more -- or nothing added to the
spores to make them more easily aerosolized?
MAJOR GENERAL PARKER: Complicated question. We do know that we found
silica in the samples. Now, we don't know what that motive would be,
or why it would be there, or anything. But there is silica in the
samples. And that led us to be absolutely sure that there was no
aluminum in the sample, because the combination of a silicate, plus
aluminum, is sort of the major ingredients of bentonite.
But the significance is -- I don't know what the significance is.
Q: Is silica negatively charged, do you know?
MAJOR GENERAL PARKER: I don't know that. It would depend on what form
it would be in. I suppose you could do all sorts of things with it.
Q: Sir, is there anything other than bentonite that can make anthrax
less inclined to clump together and more able to float freely?
MAJOR GENERAL PARKER: Not to my knowledge -- and that's very limited,
of course. You understand that, I'm not the expert. I hope there are
people that could probably answer your question much more
Q: John, you've told us a bit about what's not in the Daschle anthrax.
From your briefing the other day, could you update us on what you do
know about the characteristics of this anthrax?
MAJOR GENERAL PARKER: May I repeat what I said? The Daschle sample is
very fine and powdery. It appears that -- and I'm talking gross,
looking at the specimen grossly, not under the microscope. The New
York Post sample is very granular, by comparison. And when you look at
the two samples under the microscope, the Daschle sample is very pure
and densely compact with spores. And so is the New York Post sample,
but not quite as dense -- I'm talking magnitudes of, you know, times
10 difference, maybe, between the density of the two samples. Both
samples are densely populated with anthrax spores.
Q: I just thought in four days, you would have found out something new
MAJOR GENERAL PARKER: There's not much more to learn about anthrax.
You know, the spore, itself, has been around a long, long time. It
dates back into biblical times; we know it's not a good organism to
have in your body.
Q: Would further tests show whether bentonite was there? Ari earlier
suggested there may be other tests would identify it. Does this, what
you're doing rule out bentonite, in your opinion?
MAJOR GENERAL PARKER: Sir, in my opinion, it rules it out. If I can't
find aluminum, I can't say it's bentonite.
Q: Will there be other ways to look for the composition of this
additive? Are there other ways, aside from high energy x-rays, to go
about looking for --
MAJOR GENERAL PARKER: The scientists are pursuing that, they're
discussing it and are trying to characterize this right down to the
point where we know everything about these samples. But you have to
know that we don't have much sample, and so doing comparison is very,
very difficult and people have to think about it before we destroy
more sample to maybe run down a wrong road. So there's a lot of
discussion about what is needed.
Q: And in that discussion, is there essentially a debate as to whether
or not this additive indicates a foreign source, or whether or not
this additive indicates a domestic --
MAJOR GENERAL PARKER: Sir, I'm not aware of a debate. I'm not aware of
Q: Governor Ridge, I have another question. You can refer it out as
you see appropriate. The issue of a second letter you've already
spoken to. What is the latest theory as to the nature of these
additional hot spots within the Brentwood facility, and how
cross-contamination might have occurred? In other words, is other mail
affected that's now being sterilized as a precaution? Or -- and all
going to the point of whether or not there's mail arriving at people's
home, particular in this city, that might somehow be tainted?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: The belief within the administration is that we need
to isolate all the mail that was on the Hill to determine whether
there was more than one letter, and that process is being done and
that's part of the investigation that the FBI is running. The belief
in the commitment within the administration is to do as much
environmental testing as we possibly can to determine whether or not
there are other environmental indications of anthrax. And then we
would proceed accordingly to determine its medical sufficiency in
dealing with people who may have been exposed to it.
The belief within the administration is to basically leave no stone
un-turned. There will be additional tests on the remaining anthrax
samples that we have. They're going to be looking at the letters at
another facility, at another venue. This is -- it continues to be a
very aggressive, ongoing investigation. There are a lot of theories
out there; we just need some facts to turn a theory into reality.
Q: Can I follow on one point? In other words, what I'm asking is
almost mechanically, what would happen -- in other words, if nobody
within Daschle's office got the inhaled form of anthrax, is that
because once it aerosolizes, your biggest hot spot is going to be
within the processing center or where it's going through various
equipment, and so forth?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: It seems to me that the inhalation anthrax that took
the lives of a couple postal workers came at a point where there was
obviously maximum exposure. What caused it, whether or not it was
spraying the strappers with -- again, it's an investigation dealing
with, frankly, perhaps a universe of unknowns that we're trying to
narrow down. But I would ask any of my colleagues -- Dr. Meehan or Mr.
Day, if you care to elaborate on that.
DR. MEEHAN: I'd be happy to, Governor Ridge. At this point, the
epidemiologic data point to a situation where the Daschle letter
probably went through the Brentwood facility, was processed by a
machine, some aerosolization occurred of the spores. The people who
were working in the facility were exposed to aerosolized spores, and
developed inhalation anthrax.
We think -- we believe very strongly that people that live -- the
individuals who receive mail in the Washington, D.C. area, are at
extremely -- are essentially at no risk of inhalation anthrax. They
are not in a situation where they're going to be agitating letters
that have spores. If there's a remote possibility that a letter has a
few spores on it, because it was in the Brentwood facility at the same
time, those people may have a very, very small risk of cutaneous type
But it's important to remember that we're doing very aggressive
surveillance and case finding, working with Maryland, Virginia and
Washington, D.C., and have seen no cases of this so far. So it makes
us feel good that people are really at essentially --
Q: But are you also in touch with large businesses, say in downtown
Washington, that may get mail in bulk from Brentwood -- law firms,
DR. MEEHAN: We have recommended that their mail handlers, the ones
that get mail -- in the rooms that get mail directly from Brentwood,
be on preventive therapy right now. But let me tell you that having
tested now -- having results back from -- I believe it's 22 post
offices where non-governmental mail was going through -- out of almost
300 samples, we only have one positive. And that suggests to us that
it's starting to look like non-governmental mail was minimally
affected by this so far.
Q: Governor Ridge, what accounts for the positive hits at these off
site facilities, like the CIA, at the State Department, the Supreme
Court? Is it additional contaminated mail may have also gone through
those facilities, or is it cross-contamination from Brentwood?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I'll let the folks at the CDC or the post office, but
I believe that that theory is cross-contamination. But, again, you
don't eliminate anything at this point. Does anybody care to respond
DR. MEEHAN: I'm sorry, could you restate the question?
Q: The contamination at some of these off-site mail facilities that
service the Justice Department, the Supreme Court -- what's the
working theory on that, is it that it's cross-contamination --
DR. MEEHAN: We think probably in most cases it's mail that was
processed at the same time as the Daschle letter, that was
cross-contaminated by it.
Q: Doctor, in that regard, we have been using the terminology "hot
spots." And I'm wondering if you could comparatively tell us how hot
or not hot some of these places are? I mean, are we talking about
very, very small spore samples that are of almost no particular danger
at some of these off site facilities, and we should sort of think of
them in a different way then all being hot spots?
DR. MEEHAN: Right. It's important to realize that these are facilities
where we're taking wipe samples. So these are spores that are on the
surfaces of things. It's highly unlikely that they would be
re-aerosolized in sufficient quantity to cause anybody to get
inhalation anthrax. So our level of concern is quite low, but we still
want people to be taking antibiotics.
Q: On a follow up, could you talk about the CDC recommendation on
Friday that some high risk workers begin, at some point when it's
available, to receive the anthrax vaccination? Be these contamination
workers, others who are working in mail facilities in investigatory
capacity, and at some point possibly postal workers?
DR. MEEHAN: I'm sorry, what is the question?
Q: Well, can you talk about why that's necessary, when the vaccine
will be available, what will be the methods to work that out?
DR. MEEHAN: Those are some very preliminary discussions that are going
on right now, looking at if we were to expand vaccine availability, if
we were to recommend that, which groups would we recommend it for. And
as -- I believe it was Dr. Fleming, from CDC, said, those are the
initial groups that we would certainly look at.
Q: But you're saying that's not a final determination yet?
DR. MEEHAN: No, sir.
Q: That's not a policy. Can you stand on that, Secretary Thompson?
SECRETARY THOMPSON: It's not final. It's very preliminary -- it's
being discussed, and it's not final in any way.
Q: I just wanted to clarify. You mentioned the Cohen room.
SECRETARY THOMPSON: The Cohen Building.
Q: Or, building, rather. Is that a new site, or -- I mean, is that --
SECRETARY THOMPSON: That's the new site.
Q: What is the Cohen Building?
SECRETARY THOMPSON: Sorry?
Q: What is that building?
SECRETARY THOMPSON: It's the Health and Human Service Building, right
next to the Humphrey Building. There's a lot of -- Voice of America is
in there, Food and Drug is in there, and some of our other --
Q: There was a report this morning that there had been a possible
anthrax at the State Department. Is that accurate?
SECRETARY THOMPSON: That, I don't know about. All I know is about the
GOVERNOR RIDGE: That report about the State Department I believe is
Q: Main building?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Main building, I'm not sure. But it is.
Q: Will you be briefing like this every day or Monday, Wednesday and
Friday? What are your plans?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Well, at least Monday, Wednesday and Friday. But as --
again, there's probably a pretty good chance you will see us tomorrow,
because we found a new site in the Cohen Building. We anticipate
you'll want to know more about that. So I suspect that throughout this
week, you will probably see us daily. It may not always be at 11:00
a.m., but right now, tentatively 11:00 a.m.
Q: And the whole lineup?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: That may vary from time to time, depending on the
information that we gain over the next 24 hours, as it relates to
either the Post Office, CDC. It's an interchangeable lineup.
Everybody's on the same team. We just don't bring the entire team at
the same time.
Q: Is this in response to some of the criticism that the
administration received last week, that it was -- had a very ragged
response to the anthrax and homeland security?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Actually, if you recall the first press conference
that I think we held over a week ago, we brought out -- we've taken
the same approach, and we're going to continue to take the same
approach, with me speaking much less on matters of science and
medicine and bringing the experts along with me.
That's it. Thank you very much.
END 12:20 P.M. EST
(end White House transcript)
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