WASHINGTON — Postal inspectors using records of fluorescent orange bar codes on mail have tracked about 300 letters that passed through a sorting machine in Trenton, N.J., seconds after anthrax-tainted letters sent to senators in Washington, D.C.
Investigators found traces of anthrax on one such letter sent to an address in Connecticut about three miles from the home of a 94-year-old woman who died mysteriously of the disease last week. But Gov. John Rowland said there was no known direct connection between the death of Ottilie Lundgren and the letter.
Tests of her Oxford home, mail and the handful of places she visited on a regular basis have so far come up negative.
Postal officials said they have alerted health and law enforcement officials in the areas where the hundreds of letters processed in New Jersey were sent, but know of no health problems related to the mail.
"If there was a problem with cross contamination to the point of being dangerous to someone’s health, it would have shown up by now," said U.S. Postal Inspector Dan Mihalko. He said bar codes on the letters contain the addresses of the intended recipients, but no decision has been made about contacting them.
The codes are intended to help monitor the efficiency of mail processing.
The anthrax-tainted letters mailed to Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy originated in New Jersey and on Oct. 9 passed through the Hamilton mail processing and distribution center in Trenton, where they were routed to Washington.
The center closed on Oct. 18 because of the contamination. About 800,000 undelivered pieces of mail have been irradiated to protect against anthrax and will begin moving out today.
Since the initial reports of anthrax in the mail, the Postal Service has developed a method to use the orange bar codes to retrace the path of an individual letter through the mail system.
Using this technique, postal officials said they determined that the contaminated letter sent to Connecticut had come close to a letter sent to Leahy or Daschle.
The Washington letters are blamed for contaminating a number of Washington buildings and for killing two postal workers.
Late Friday, authorities planned to pump chlorine dioxide gas into Daschle’s office at the Hart Senate Office Building, where the letter sent to him was opened last month. Officials said they would make sure none of the deadly chemical escaped as they cleaned the office.
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