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Today's Health Highlights: Oct. 27, 2001

Anthrax Terrorists May Be Americans, Paper Says World Trade Center Contaminants Revealed Anthrax Vaccine Shipments Await Government OK

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of The HealthDay Service:

Report: Anthrax Scare Not the Work of Foreign Terrorists

The anthrax attacks in Washington, D.C., New York City and Florida are probably the work of United States extremists with no ties to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network, The Washington Post, quoting top law enforcement officials, reported today.

"Everything seems to lean toward a domestic source. Nothing seems to fit with an overseas terrorist type operation," a senior official was quoted as saying.

Officials with the FBI and CIA are considering many possible suspects, including associates of right-wing hate groups and people in the United States who are sympathetic with extremist Islamic causes, the newspaper said.

None of the 60 to 80 threat reports gathered every day by U.S. intelligence agencies has linked the letters containing anthrax spores to al Qaeda or other terrorist groups. Also, the spore samples provide no links to a foreign government or lab, The Post reported.

U.S. officials say bin Laden was the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington.

The Associated Press reported today that health officials have ordered anthrax testing at thousands more mail rooms across the Washington area but continue to insist that postal customers had very little risk of contracting the disease. Evidence of the bacteria has turned up on Capitol Hill and at a growing list of government mailrooms.

Concerns over the mail delivery system have continued to spread as anthrax has now been detected at more than 10 postal facilities in the Washington area, and health officials hope to stop its spread with an escalation of testing and treatment, the AP reported.

"We're getting in front of the fire," said Dr. Patrick Meehan of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But he warned that thousands more people who work with the mail will need to begin taking preventive antibiotics. "It could be an astronomical number," he said.

Officials said they would begin testing at between 2,000 and 4,000 sites that receive mail from the Brentwood postal processing facility in Northeast Washington -- including, possibly, large apartment buildings -- and recommend antibiotics for all who work at them.

The latest government landmark building to fall victim to the anthrax bioterror campaign was the U.S. Supreme Court building. Officials ordered it shut yesterday for testing after a trace amount of anthrax was detected in an offsite mail center that serves the court building.

Meanwhile, postal workers in New York City have threatened a lawsuit to force the government to close a large processing center where four machines were found to be contaminated with anthrax. The Postal Service plans to seal off the affected machines for decontamination, but says the rest of the building is safe, the AP reported.

The nine-story facility covers two city blocks, employs about 5,000 people and handles all incoming and outgoing mail for Manhattan and the Bronx -- about 20 million pieces a day.

To date, inhalation anthrax, the most dangerous form of the disease, has killed three people -- two postal workers at the Brentwood facility in Washington and an editor for a Florida-based publisher of supermarket tabloids.

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World Trade Center Contaminants Revealed

Poisonous chemicals and metals are being released into the ground and air at the World Trade Center attack site at levels that exceed federal safety standards, newly released documents show.

The Associated Press reports a New York Daily News story today shows that low levels of contaminants also have been detected in the Hudson River and its sediment. The newspaper's findings were based on documents that include hundreds of pages of raw data compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The documents, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request by the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project, show the presence of soil and air contaminants including dioxins, PCBs, lead and chromium -- sometimes at levels exceeding EPA standards. In addition, fires still burning beneath the wreckage of the buildings are releasing relatively high levels of benzene, which can cause leukemia and other diseases from long-term exposure.

New York City and federal officials said that there was no immediate risk to people away from the Trade Center debris, and that workers at the site were being protected by respirators and other equipment. An EPA spokeswoman said yesterday the agency was still examining its data.

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Anthrax Vaccine Shipments Await Government Blessing

The federal government is working frantically to give the nation's only anthrax vaccine maker the go-ahead to send fresh batches of the vaccine to American soldiers by next month, HealthDay reports.

But even if Michigan-based Bioport Corp. is shipping the vaccine by Thanksgiving, as company and government officials hope, don't look for it in your local pharmacy.

The company has an exclusive, $29 million contract to supply the U.S. military -- and only the U.S. military. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to use the vaccine in special cases where people have been exposed to anthrax and are allergic to antibiotics. The FDA has 30 days to respond to the request.

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Red Cross President Resigns

The president of the American Red Cross, Bernadine Healy, announced her resignation yesterday, saying she'd been forced to quit over policy differences with her board.

She said the disputes dealt with how the American Red Cross should handle a decision by the International Red Cross to exclude the Israeli branch from membership in the global agency. She said there were also differences over how to spend almost $500 million that had been raised to help the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Associated Press reports.

The chairman of the Red Cross board, David McLaughlin, denied that Healy had been pushed out.

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