of Homeland Security Director Governor Tom Ridge
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson
CDC Emergency Environmental Services Director, Dr. Pat Meehan
Homeland Security Press Briefing on Anthrax
Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building
October 29, 2001
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 well.
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 the 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 months
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
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
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
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
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.
QUESTION: 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 treatment
What we have done is figured out that the isolates so far have entirely been
sensitive to doxycycline, so that, essentially, ciprofloxacin and doxycycline
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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 letters.
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 sample.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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 articulately.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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 a debate.
QUESTION: 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
QUESTION: 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
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 --
QUESTION: But are you also in touch with large businesses, say in downtown Washington,
that may get mail in bulk from Brentwood -- law firms, other --
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.
QUESTION: 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 to that?
DR. MEEHAN: I'm sorry, could you restate the question?
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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
DR. MEEHAN: I'm sorry, what is the question?
QUESTION: 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
QUESTION: But you're saying that's not a final determination yet?
DR. MEEHAN: No, sir.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: I just wanted to clarify. You mentioned the Cohen room.
SECRETARY THOMPSON: The Cohen Building.
QUESTION: Or, building, rather. Is that a new site, or -- I mean, is that --
SECRETARY THOMPSON: That's the new site.
QUESTION: What is the Cohen Building?
SECRETARY THOMPSON: Sorry?
QUESTION: 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 --
QUESTION: 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 Cohen
GOVERNOR RIDGE: That report about the State Department I believe is accurate.
QUESTION: Main building?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Main building, I'm not sure. But it is.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.