anthrax - postalnews blog


Deadly Letters: Connecticut Woman, 94, An Unlikely Victim Of 2001 Anthrax Mail Attacks

For weeks Ottilie Lundgren hadn’t been able to shake a pesky cold, so when her niece Shirley Davis visited her Oxford home on a Friday morning and found the 94-year-old woman was having difficulty breathing, they went to the hospital.

“I remember she kept telling me, ‘I don’t know why I am so sick. What could have happened to me that I’m still sick?’ I’ve never had anything like this before,’ ” Davis recalled recently. “Oh Lord, if she only knew the truth.”

Lundgren loved to read a good mystery but seemed an unlikely candidate to become a central character in one.

But that is exactly what happened after Davis brought her to Griffin Hospital in Derby on Nov. 16, 2001. For days doctors did tests trying to find out what was making Lundgren so sick. It wasn’t until one doctor tested for anthrax that the reality set in — somehow a mostly housebound elderly woman had been poisoned with the same anthrax that had been sent to U.S. senators and media outlets.

Read more: Deadly Letters: Oxford Woman, 94, An Unlikely Victim Of 2001 Anthrax Mail Attacks –

Video: Detection System at Memphis Postal Center Didn’t Detect Ricin

(Memphis) After the 2001 anthrax attacks, the United States Postal Service installed Detection Systems to detect the presence of anthrax in many of their processing and distribution centers. However those systems do not detect ricin.

“I know it does test for many things. I’m not sure if ricin is one of those. I know it does test for anthrax,” said David Walton from the United States Postal Service.

However offsite mail facilities in Maryland were able to detect ricin in letters addressed to Senator Roger Wicker and President Barack Obama.

Read more: Detection System at Memphis Postal Center Didn’t Detect Ricin |

Anthrax panel releases report

In 2001, anthrax spores found in letters mailed across the country were responsible for killing five people and sickening 17 others, shutting down the U.S. Postal Service in certain areas and alarming Americans.

A panel of scientists, led by Lehigh President Alice P. Gast, was charged with reviewing the scientific evidence related to the FBI investigation of the anthrax letters. The panel’s report found that it is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion about the origins of the anthrax in letters based on the science alone.

“We find the scientific evidence to be consistent with their conclusions but not as definitive as stated,” Gast said during a news conference in Washington, D.C. She emphasized that this case rests on the complex interface between science and the law enforcement investigation. The panel, after reviewing 9,600 pages of material, could not rule out that there were other sources of the anthrax spores.

In 2008, the FBI asked the National Research Council to appoint a panel to conduct an independent review of the scientific approaches, methodologies and analytical techniques used in its investigation and to determine whether the FBI reached appropriate scientific conclusions. Panelists whose expertise included microbiology, medicine, physical chemistry, biochemistry and forensic science were not asked to judge the law enforcement investigation. The FBI’s investigation connected the letter materials to a flask in the lab of a researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID).

"We believe this independent review — done at the FBI’s request — will help strengthen the law enforcement and national security community’s scientific and analytical capabilities in future investigations," said Gast, who is also a member of the National Academy of Science’s Committee on Science, Technology and Law. “This was an opportunity to provide a really in-depth look at how science is performed in the context of a national emergency and in the context of a law enforcement investigation with many experts being worked with across the country.”

Click here to view a webcast of the panel’s findings.