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Anthrax Attacks, One Year Later
FBI Continues Search; Health Officials Focus on Quicker Detection

audio icon For Morning Edition, NPR's Richard Harris reports. Oct. 21, 2002.

Anthrax clean-up workers stand outside the Brentwood mail processing facility in Washington, D.C., Oct.  23, 2001
Three anthrax cleanup workers outside the Brentwood mail processing facility in Washington, D.C., Oct. 23, 2001.
Photo: Copyright 2002 Reuters Limited

A photo of the anthrax letters sent last fall to Sen. Tom Daschle and NBC's Tom Brokaw.
Anthrax letters sent last fall to Sen. Tom Daschle and NBC's Tom Brokaw. The FBI never found the source of the anthrax that killed an American Media photo editor in Florida.
Photo: FBI

View the envelopes sent to Brokaw, and Senators Daschle (D-SD) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

Read the letters sent to the senators and Brokaw.

Oct. 21, 2002 -- One year ago today, health officials shut down the Brentwood postal facility in Washington, D.C. About 2,000 postal workers worked in the building for more than a week after anthrax spores had spilled there from the now-infamous letters mailed to Capitol Hill. Two postal workers died from inhalation anthrax. Today, Brentwood's former workers continue to struggle with their anger and fear. NPR's Richard Harris reports for Morning Edition.

The anthrax attacks started just weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist hijackings. Letters containing anthrax spores were sent to a handful of politicians and media organizations on the East Coast. A photo editor in Boca Raton, Fla., was the first to die from anthrax -- and his death was also the first warning that a bioterrorism attack was under way.

A letter was never found at Bob Stevens' office in the American Media building in Florida. But other anthrax letters did turn up, addressed to NBC News' Tom Brokaw, the New York Post, and Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy on Capitol Hill. Altogether, the anthrax attacks killed five people and made 17 others ill, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The FBI has yet to make an arrest.

Investigators know each of the letters contained the same strain of anthrax, isolated from a Texas cow in 1981 and sent to the Army's biodefense lab at Fort Detrick. From there, samples were sent to a number of labs.

The FBI also knows the four letters were all postmarked Trenton, N.J.; and it's possible they passed through a Princeton mailbox that tested positive for the presence of anthrax spores. Investigators say the attacks aren't tied to the Sept. 11 hijackings, and the agency is looking at 20 to 30 "persons of interest."

If the FBI investigation has uncovered anything more substantial than that, bureau officials aren't saying.

A year after the attacks, NPR presents a series of stories examining what has happened since, from bioterrorism preparedness and detection efforts to how the hard-hit community of Brentwood postal workers is coping.

The Stories

audio icon Preparing for a Bioterrorism Attack
Some weapons experts had warned that an attack like last fall's was possible, but few people took the threat seriously. Now billions of dollars are being spent to prepare for chemical and biological terrorism. NPR's Christopher Joyce reports on the year's progress. Weekend Edition Sunday, Oct. 6, 2002.

audio icon The Investigation
A year after anthrax killed five people, the FBI has yet to make an arrest. Some in the scientific community say it's time for bureau officials to re-examine their basic assumptions. NPR's David Kestenbaum reports. Morning Edition, Oct. 4, 2002.

audio icon Who Takes the Lead?
The government has solved many problems that surfaced during last year's anthrax attacks. Labs are better equipped to analyze suspicious powders, and there are better systems to distribute antibiotics. But as NPR's Richard Knox reports, it's still not clear what part of the government takes charge when bioterrorism is detected. All Things Considered, Oct. 3, 2002.

Read a transcript Knox's interview with Florida epidemiologist Dr. Steven Wiersma Read a transcript of Knox's interview with Florida epidemiologist Dr. Steven Wiersma about what the state learned from last falls anthrax attack.

audio iconBioterrorism Surveillance
Quick detection of a bioterrorist attack will likely determine the number of people who get sick or die. NPR's Richard Knox reports on approaches health officials are taking to detect an attack as quickly as possible. All Things Considered, Oct. 2, 2002.

Online Discussion

Post your thoughts or questions about last fall's anthrax attacks and the threat of bioterrorism at NPR's discussion board.