Feds rule out natural cause of anthrax


Federal authorities Tuesday said they have ruled out obvious environmental causes as a source for the anthrax found at a south Florida publishing company, and increasingly suspect that a person or group may be responsible.

“Next to nil” was how Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, characterized the odds that the sudden appearance of the deadly bacteria occurred naturally, according to Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., who said he met with Koplan Tuesday.

Meanwhile, some experts suggested Tuesday there is mounting concern among investigators that whoever’s responsible for the anthrax demonstrated a high degree of sophistication in its use. The concern arises from confirmation by the CDC that bacteria found on the computer keyboard of a man who died of the disease were in powder form.

If this is so, one source said, then “someone knew how to brew it, dry it, cake, grind and powder it. So they know what they’re doing.”

CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds confirmed the report Tuesday afternoon, noting, “Yes, a powder,” when asked directly what form the anthrax contamination had taken.

The source, who is an expert on anthrax production and consults for government investigators, framed a scenario that others have suggested is being closely considered.

Noting that Bob Stevens, a photo editor who died from the disease, and Ernesto Blanco, a mailroom worker who carried it, worked together, he suggested the anthrax may have arrived in the mail.

“You have dried spores delivered to Stevens by Blanco,” the source said. “He opened it, spores are expelled on Stevens and Blanco and in that work area.”

Dr. Michael Osterholm, a bioterrorism expert at the University of Minnesota, said the very fact that powder was found means “somebody had anthrax, and they made it work.” This means, he added, that “you can’t say (that use of anthrax as a weapon) is some kind of magical myth anymore.”

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