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Anthrax Found in a House Office Building

October 20, 2001
Anthrax Found in a House Office Building Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
One of four House Office buildings, the Longworth Building opened its doors in 1935.
On this date, security officials on Capitol Hill found anthrax in the mail room of the Ford House Office Building, making it the third building on the Capitol campus and the first on the House side to test positive for the deadly pathogen. The emergency had started on the morning of October 15th when staff in the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota opened a letter laced with a fine white powder. Public health officials quickly identified it as a potent form of anthrax and ordered an “environmental sampling” of the Capitol to determine if the bacteria had spread. During testing, a machine used to sort mail in the Ford Building returned a positive sample. A spokesman for the U.S. Capitol Police said it was “not an unexpected situation” since nearly every piece of mail sent to the U.S. House of Representatives, then passed through the Ford mail room. Three offices in the Longworth House Office Building also tested positive for traces of anthrax during the sweep. The House went into recess on October 17th and had planned to stay out until the following Tuesday, October 23rd while testing went on. House leaders had initially been criticized for their decision to recess early while the Senate remained in session. But the dangerous situation in Ford substantiated their decision. Over the next few weeks, the Environmental Protection Agency supervised the laborious decontamination process. The Longworth Building reopened on November 5th, and the Ford building on November 6th; the Senate’s Hart Office Building did not reopen until January 22, 2002.

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