Anthrax Found at US Supreme Court Mail Facility

The US Supreme Court became the latest victim of anthrax on Friday when a filter from its off-site mail inspection warehouse tested positive for the bacterium that causes the disease, court officials said.

Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said the air filter, which was not attached to the ventilation system, had been taken from the off-site facility on Monday. Court officials would not give the location of the warehouse, saying only that it was in the Washington metropolitan area, “several miles” away.

“We have no evidence of any contamination in the Supreme Court building,” Arberg said. “Results of testing of our building completed by the Centers for Disease Control on Sunday were all negative.”

No court personnel have shown any signs of being exposed to anthrax or of developing any form of the disease, she said.

But as a precautionary measure, the building was being closed for another round of environmental testing and for decontamination if necessary.

Dr. John Eisold, the Capitol’s attending physician, said testing on the Supreme Court’s 400 employees had begun on Friday. Employees were also receiving doses of antibiotics as a precaution.

“I want to put peoples’ minds at rest,” Eisold said. “If possible, by environmental sampling and sampling of certain people we might be able to find some clues and help build a case where we can define exposure.”


“Although it’s a conservative approach for us to take, we’re making the assumption that quite possibly something could have come to the mailroom here,” he said, noting that the mailroom in the Supreme Court is an open area that many people can pass through.

US Supreme Court Marshal Pam Talkin said about 12 people had worked in the off-site facility over the past week. Mail is taken from the Supreme Court to the facility for screening and then back to the Supreme Court.

If the building remains closed on Monday for either testing or decontamination, the court will sit at the US Appeals Court in Washington to hear scheduled arguments. If that happens, it would be the first time since the Supreme Court building was erected in 1935 that the court had sat in another location.

The FBI has been notified of the anthrax finding, Arberg said. A total of 14 people have been confirmed infected with anthrax in the United States, three of whom have died from the dangerous inhaled form of the bacterial infection.

Two men who worked at the Brentwood postal facility in Washington were among those who died from anthrax. Two others who worked at that facility have the inhaled form of the disease and remain in serious condition in a hospital.

The Brentwood facility handled letters to the Capitol, including an anthrax-tainted letter that was sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle’s office. Court officials would not say if the Supreme Court’s mail passed through Brentwood.

In addition to the Supreme Court, anthrax has been found at mail offices that serve the CIA, Congress, the White House, the State Department and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in suburban Maryland, as well as the main mail distribution center for New York.

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