The State Department on Tuesday started hunting for an anthrax-laden letter among its impounded mail, after tests found evidence of the dangerous bacteria at eight of 55 sites tested at the department's Sterling, Va., mail-sorting facility.
The contamination, plus the fact that no State personnel have contracted anthrax since a worker at the Sterling facility was hospitalized with the disease Oct. 25, convinced authorities that they may have an anthrax-ridden letter in the huge cache of the department's mail that has been impounded since Oct. 24.
If a letter containing anthrax is found at the State Department, or in impounded mail at an embassy overseas, it would be the fourth in six weeks, and could offer clues to the sender's identity.
The State Department's positive results for anthrax, from samples collected Nov. 6, were found on three mail-sorting machines, with six samples on one sorter, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. The results "support the theory that there is a letter like the one sent to Sen. Daschle that has moved through our mail system," Boucher said.
The ailing State Department employee, who has not been identified, contracted inhalation anthrax, the most severe form of the disease. The mail room employee was released from the hospital Friday.
Also Tuesday, the last of six people to survive inhalation anthrax came home after 25 days in a suburban Washington hospital. Leroy Richmond, a postal worker at the city's contaminated central facility, said he was grateful to doctors who began treating him for anthrax even before it was confirmed.
Four others have died from the disease, including two area postal workers remembered Tuesday at a Postal Service memorial.
In other developments:
HOAX AT POLICE POST: U.S. Capitol Police have suspended an officer and opened a criminal inquiry into whether he committed an anthrax hoax by leaving a note and powdery substance in a House office building.
The powder, left Nov. 7 at the officer's post in the basement of the Cannon House Office Building, was determined not to be harmful, said Lt. Dan Nichols of the Capitol Police.
The department has opened criminal and personnel inquiries, the first to determine if laws were broken and the second into whether the person broke Capitol Police's code of conduct. Any evidence will be turned over to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Nichols did not release the name of the officer.
SAT EXAMS STUCK: With thousands of unscored SAT exams apparently stuck in New Jersey post offices because of the anthrax scare, the College Board said Tuesday it was contacting high school students and offering them a chance to retake the test or get a refund.
The College Board owns the test, which is given seven times during the school year. Scoring of the $25 college entrance tests is conducted by the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, N.J.
The College Board estimates mail delays held up the answer sheets of as many as 7,800 students out of about 550,000 who took the test Oct. 13. That figure was based on the fact that ETS got none, or only some, of the answer sheets from 89 high schools and other test centers in this country and overseas.
Students may retake the test at no charge at the next scheduled sitting, Dec. 1. The College Board also plans several makeup tests, which will likely be scheduled for later in December. Test takers may also request a refund.