The Florida Anthrax Cases
by
Ed Lake
(Feb. 23, 2003)
(Last revised: July 20, 2008)

There is actually a great deal of information available about the anthrax attacks.  We have several of the letters and envelopes.  We have the text of the letters and can study the handwriting.  We have the two different "powders" of different refinements containing anthrax spores.  We have scientific details about the type of anthrax used - including the DNA.  We know where the letters were mailed.  We even know which mailbox was most likely used for the second mailing.   We have a good idea of what kind of scientific expertise it takes to produce the anthrax powder found in the second group of letters.  And beyond that there are undoubtedly many details which have not been released to the public, but which are hinted at by FBI officials.  Itís really a great deal of information.

However, itís the interpretation of the information that causes virtually every individual in the world to have a totally different opinion of what actually happened.

But if Occamís Razor is used, and the simplest explanation of all the facts is laid out, itís all really fairly straightforward:

THE SIMPLEST EXPLANATION

Within an hour after that second airliner plowed into the World Trade Center, police and federal investigators were on the job trying to learn everything that could be learned about the individuals behind the attack.

In just a few days, TV, radio and the print media were filled with reports that part of the group had been based in Florida, and the group was probably led by Mohamed Atta who had taken flight training lessons at an airfield in Lantana, Florida.  Newspapers all over the world told how Atta paid cash to rent a plane for flying lessons at Lantana, taking at least three flight lessons there.  Other workers at that Lantana airport remembered Atta.  The terroristsí connections to Florida were all over the news, and so was Lantana.  There were countless interviews on TV, replayed over and over and over.

And the news was also filled with reports speculating on what the next terrorist attack might be like.  With air travel at a virtual standstill, it wasnít likely to be another attack like that upon the World Trade Center.  Would it be a biological attack?  That was what knowledgeable experts feared the most.  And many were on TV talking about it.

While this was happening, a scientist - probably a microbiologist living and working somewhere in Central New Jersey - was apparently working himself into a state where he would take matters into his own hands in a dangerous attempt to alert America to the dangers of bioterrorism.   The WTC attack had occurred within an easy drive of where he lived.  A bioweapons attack could kill him and everyone around him.

And Central New Jersey was home to many Muslim mosques and Muslim communities.  No doubt that also played a role in his thinking as he decided what to do.  The "enemy" could be all around him - ready to attack with bioweapons - and the American public didnít seem to care.

The scientist apparently already had a supply of anthrax for some reason.  Possibly, heíd been planning some different kind of demonstration.  The Bush administration had trashed the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention a month before.  The next convention would not be until November.  He may have been planning some kind of harmless demonstration for that convention.  But the situation was now too urgent to wait until November.

He needed to do something immediately.  If his anthrax supply was frozen germs or in spore form, he would have needed to grow more and force sporulation.  Most likely, because of the short time he had, he already had a supply of unrefined anthrax - i.e., a supply of material consisting of the end product of sporulation, roughly 90 percent dead germs, dead mother cells and dried nutrients, and roughly 10 percent spores, mostly still within the dead mother cells.

TAKING ACTION

The culprit most likely purchased a pack of 5 stamped, small-size envelopes somewhere - probably at a post office.

He wrote or had someone write a letter that would look like what he thought a Muslim terrorist letter would look like.  But he didnít want to kill anyone.  He was only seeking to alert people.  So he included in the letter the medical advice to "Take Penacilin Now". Then he made at least four Xerox-type copies of it, giving him the five letters he needed for the envelopes.  Hereís the letter:

Note that the writer of the letter traced over several of the Ts and at least two of the As.

"THE DOODLING TERRORIST"

Is it just a coincidence that Atta is a name that can be spelled with just As and Ts?  People who believe al Qaeda was behind he mailing sometimes point that out.  The fact that most of the A's and T's were traced over cannot be denied.  Anyone can see it.  But what does it mean?  Atta had been dead for a week by the time of the first mailing.  But he was in the news every day and on the minds of everyone following the unfolding details of his journey to the World Trade Center.  It was probably on the mind of the scientist preparing the letters - and, if he used someone else to actually write the letters, on the mind of that person, too.

Whoever traced over those As and Ts doesnít appear to have done it consciously.  If he had, he wouldnít have traced over more than two of the Ts.  Two would have been enough.  And the tracing would have been more deliberate, not as casual and careless as it appears.  The tracing over letters appears to be simple doodling.

It seems very odd that a man about to commit a crime would doodle on such a letter.  That's one of the many reasons I believe that someone else did the actual writing.  The doodling by tracing over letters can be easily explained if someone had just copied the letter from some other format and was waiting for the letter to be examined by the culprit.  More details are on the Handwriting Page.  There undoubtedly could be many other reasons for the retracing of those two particular letters of the alphabet.  I just can't think of any.

ADDRESSING THE LETTERS

With the letters prepared, it was then a matter of determining who the targets would be.  It was time to address the five envelopes.

The first three addressees were easy enough: Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather and Peter Jennings, the three news anchors who most adult Americans watch on their TVs every night.

Then the culprit apparently chose a personal target: the relatively conservative New York Post.  He most likely wanted the Postís infamous full page banner headlines to be seen all over New York and New Jersey:  GERM WARFARE!  ANTHRAX ATTACK!  The Post would do a much better job of scaring the hell out of people than some subdued headline in the New York Times.

But where should he send the fifth letter?  The text of the letters consisted of Muslim threats and the heading 09-11-01.  He clearly wanted to connect the anthrax-laden letters to the 9-11 Muslim terrorists.  How could he indicate such a connection.  The terrorists had been in Florida.  Theyíd take flight lessons in Lantana.  Even though all the terrorists who had been in Florida were dead, a letter to a newspaper in Lantana would still be seen as a sure-fire connection between the 9-11 terrorists and the anthrax mailing.  He probably searched the Internet for a newspaper in Lantana and The National Enquirer turned up.  The Enquirer was ideal for his purposes!  It was not only located where the terrorists had trained, it was also a newspaper infamous for bold headlines on supermarket newsstands all over America.  It was perfect!

(He probably got the address from the Internet.   He certainly didnít buy a copy of the tabloid to check the address, for if he had heíd have found that The National Enquirer had moved out of Lantana a year before.  So, without realizing it, he used an obsolete address.  And he also used an address that anyone living in that area with a gripe would probably have known was obsolete.)

So he addressed or had someone address the five envelopes.   He or the other person then cropped edges off of the five letters so that the sheets of paper would fold more easily into the small envelopes.  He knew that folding a 9-1/2 by 11 sheet of paper with the pharmaceutical fold would create a packet that wouldnít easily fit in a small envelope.

He then probably took the letters and envelopes to his lab on Monday night, where he used a glove box to protect himself while he spooned unrefined anthrax onto the letters, folded them, placed them into the five envelopes, sealed the flaps with a wet sponge or rag, and then placed the completed letters into a Baggie where they would be safe while the interior of the glove box was decontaminated.

After removing the Baggie filled with letters from the glove box, he then drove somewhere within easy driving distance, but far enough away from his lab - possibly but not necessarily in Princeton - and emptied the Baggie of letters into a mailbox.

The first anthrax attack was underway.

This is nearly all speculation, but itís speculation that fits all the known facts and itís certainly the simplest explanation of all the known facts.

FLORIDA

The letter went through New Jersey sorting facilities and was trucked to Atlanta and then on to the West Palm Beach Postal facility.  There it was determined that the National Enquirer address was obsolete, so the letter was forwarded to AMI headquarters in Boca Raton.    It left a trail of spores and anthrax material as it and the letters that had been contaminated by it moved through the various post offices - Blue Acres, Green Acres, Lake Worth - until the letter arrived at Boca Raton - probably on Friday September 21 or Saturday the 22nd.

That batch of mail was probably picked up at the Boca Raton post office by Ernesto Blanco on that Friday or the following Monday, September 24.  He apparently inhaled some of the anthrax when he dumped the bag of mail onto a sorting table.

Because it had been addressed to the Enquirer, it would have been opened by a clerk named Stephanie Dailey, who had been on vacation for the prior two weeks.  According to her testimony, she opened a suspicious letter containing a powder on Tuesday, September 25.   Since it looked like a typical hoax commonly received by AMI, she simply tossed it into the trash.  But apparently the fine powder inside had been scattered around the area during the process of opening the letter.

The probable use of a vacuum cleaner comes into play here.  Sometime between the time the anthrax was spilled and the time the AMI building was evacuated three weeks later, someone from the cleaning staff almost certainly vacuumed the rugs.  A vacuum cleaner will retain the large particles of 5 microns or larger in its bag and release things that are smaller.   The anthrax spores would be blown out through the bag and into the room! Ironically, the most lethal material is released, and the less lethal material is retaining in the vacuum cleaner bag!

 (The anthrax letters sent to ABC, CBS and NBC were also viewed as typical hoax junk and tossed out.  At the Post, because the letter wasnít addressed to a specific editor, it was tossed unopened into a junk mail bin to be opened when someone had the time. NONE of the letters was taken seriously.)

BOB STEVENS & ERNESTO BLANCO

Bob Stevens, a photo editor for the Sun, one of AMI's publications was the first person in Florida to be affected by the anthrax.  According to the book "The Killer Strain" by Marilyn W. Thompson, Stevens worked late on the evening of Sept. 26, because he was going to drive up to North Carolina the next day.  If he was in the area while the cleaning crew was vacuuming the carpet and blowing anthrax spores into the air, that would explain how he inhaled the spores.

According to the very detailed account of Bob Stevensí ordeal in the March 2003 issue of Esquire magazine, the effects of the disease hit Stevens on Sunday, September 30, at around 12:30 in the afternoon.  They were driving to Durham (NC) "when Bob started shivering, shaking, his face flushed."  The next day, Monday, October 1, Stevens and his wife drove back to his home in Lantana, Florida.  He wore a sweater all the way.  That evening the symptoms got worse, and he was taken by his wife to the JFK Medical Center in Atlantis, Florida, at just after 2 a.m. in the morning of October 2.

Within hours it was determined that Stevens had anthrax.  The CDC was summoned.  As doctors worked to save Stevens, his health rapidly deteriorated.   His movements for the past few days were traced to try to determine where he could have gotten the anthrax.  Although extremely rare, the official assumption was that he had gotten anthrax from natural causes.  He had gone fishing while in North Carolina, and it was there that he became ill.  He could have contracted the disease there.  At the time, there was no true reason to believe it wasnít from natural causes, and thatís what the media was told.

Privately, however, the doctor who made the initial anthrax diagnosis assumed that - since al Qaeda members involved with 9-11 had lived nearby - al Qaeda was somehow responsible for the anthrax.  The local director of public health for the county made the same assumption.  And when they contacted the CDC, the CDC, too, assumed that al Qaeda was somehow behind it.  To the outside world, however, they could only say they assumed it was from natural causes - until proven otherwise.  The biggest evidence for "natural causes" was that Stevens appeared to be the only case.  Any terrorist attack would almost certainly have infected many many more people.

At 4 p.m. on Friday, October 5, Bob Stevens died - the first known death from inhalation anthrax in the U.S. since 1976.

A few hours later, there was a report about another AMI employee, 73 year old Ernesto Blanco, who was at a hospital in Miami with a stubborn case of what looked like pneumonia.

By October 8th, the scientist in New Jersey had apparently become frustrated by weeks of waiting without anything at all in the newspapers about his letters to the media.  If heíd dreamed of sensational headlines in the New York Post, they hadnít happened.  Brokaw, Rather and Jennings were clearly oblivious to what he had done.  Heíd expected to start a panic, but, instead, everything was normal.  And the one case of anthrax that he could reasonably assume he had caused was being diagnosed as being from natural causes.   He undoubtedly knew he was responsible for Bob Stevensí death.  But his intent had been to save millions of American lives.  So, Stevensí death didnít deter him.

While heíd been waiting, he must have been refining a much more lethal form of anthrax for a second mailing, if one proved necessary.  It proved necessary.  Most likely on the evening of October 8, when it appeared that his first mailing was a total failure, he put two letters filled with highly refined anthrax and addressed to Senators Daschle and Leahy in the mailbox across the street from Princeton University.

Meanwhile, Ernesto Blancoís pneumonia had been diagnosed as anthrax.  It wasn't something Stevens had encountered on vacation.  It was something at AMI.

On Oct. 8, AMIís 700 employees and recent visitors lined up at the white annex building of the county Health Department in Delray Beach to have nasal swabs taken.

By October 10, Stephanie Dailey at AMI had had her nasal passages swabbed and tested for anthrax.  She tested positive.  With three people at AMI showing exposure to anthrax, there was no longer any doubt that it wasnít from natural causes.  The AMI building was shut down.  Panic ensued.  Thousands were tested, antibiotics were distributed.  But that was it.  There were no more anthrax cases in Florida.

On the 14th the news media was reporting in full force that there had been an anthrax attack in Florida, and because Blanco and Dailey were mail room employees, it had probably come through the mails.

On the 15th, the letter from the second mailing to Senator Tom Daschle is opened.  It later tests positive for anthrax.  There was no longer any doubt.  Someone was sending anthrax through the mails!

NEW YORK

By the time the news broke that someone had sent anthrax through the mails, people connected with NBC, CBS, ABC and the New York Post were already suffering from lesions that were thought to be from insect bites or ordinary infections.  The first symptoms in New York had been felt weeks earlier.  Joanna Huden at the Post noticed a lesion on her finger on September 22.  New tests were performed, and it was determined that New Yorkers at ABC, CBS and NBC, in addition to the Post, had contracted anthrax - but of the less serious cutaneous form.  And two post office employees in New Jersey were also found to have contracted cutaneous anthrax.

There was panic.  There was anger.  There was confusion.  And there were a more cases of anthrax in New York after people went through contaminated trash looking for the letters that had been tossed out weeks earlier.    However, those three later cases in New York happened amid the rash of new cases in New Jersey and Washington that resulted from the second anthrax mailing.  Apparently no one attempted to separate the anthrax cases by which letters had caused them.

SUMMARIZING THE FACTS

The facts clearly indicate that someone with significant scientific abilities mailed five letters containing unrefined anthrax from Central New Jersey, and those letters were postmarked September 18, exactly one week after the WTC tragedy.

Beginning around September 13, every TV news program and every newspaper was reporting on how some of the 9-11 terrorists had lived for awhile in Florida and had taken flight training at the Lantana airport.   This seems to explain why one of the letters was sent to The National Enquirer in Lantana.

Because hoax letters had become very common to news organizations during the prior two years, four of the five letters were simply tossed out.  The letter to the New York Post was tossed unopened into a junk mail bin and was recovered intact.  The letter to Tom Brokaw was dug out of the trash when it was learned weeks later that someone was sending actual anthrax through the mails.   The ABC, CBS and National Enquirer letters were never recovered.  But we know they existed because people at those organizations got anthrax.

We also know a lot more because three weeks after the first mailing there was a second mailing of refined anthrax from the same area and by the same person.

But itís the first mailing that generates the most debate - and specifically the AMI letter.  Although we now know that Bob Stevens case of anthrax wasnít really the first (the first was in New York), it was the first one reported and it seemed "different".  It was the one that seemed to have a connection to al Qaeda because the letter was sent to Florida and the al Qaeda terrorists had been in Florida.

OTHER "FACTS"

Although all of the anthrax-laden letters from the culpritís first mailing had been tossed away or aside and totally ignored, one part of his plan did actually succeed very well.   The culpritís attempt to link the anthrax mailing to the 9-11 hijackers in Florida worked exactly as it was intended to work.

One can speculate about what would have happened if a New York case had been discovered first by the media.  But thatís not what happened.  The Bob Stevensí case in Florida was the first to make headlines.  Theories were being generated by the score before anyone knew there were any cases in New York.  And all those theories involved al Qaeda and the 9-11 terrorists.  And it didnít make any difference that the 9-11 terrorists had all been dead a week at the time the Florida letter was being postmarked.  A flood of theories and "facts" filled news reports:

OSAMAíS MANHOOD

There were stories that Osama bin Laden had ordered the attack because The National Enquirer had made fun of his manhood on their front pages.

ANGRY WITH THE LANDLORD

The FBI learned that Gloria Irish, the wife of Sun editor Michael Irish, had rented an apartment to two of the 9-11 hijackers, Hamza Alghamdi and Marwan al-Shehhi.  That was enough for the St. Petersburg Times to report that it was confirmation of "a clear link between the terrorists targeting America and the South Florida company hit by anthrax cases (AMI)".  And Michael Irish also flew a small plane out of the same Lantana airport where Mohamed Atta had trained.  But in reality, thereís no reason to believe that the terrorists knew where Gloria Irishís husband worked.  And to suggest that the AMI anthrax attack was the result of some landlord dispute is beyond ridiculous - particularly since Hamza Alghamdi and Marwan al-Shehhi were both dead at the time of the mailing.

AL HAZNAWIíS LESION

Six months after the anthrax mailing, someone learned that one of the hijackers, Al Haznawi, had been treated by a Dr. Tsonas at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale in June of 2001 for a lesion on his leg.  Dr. Tsonas hadnít diagnosed the lesion as anthrax.  And the pharmacist who originally sent Al Haznawi to Dr. Tsonas described the problem area as a "gash".  It didnít make any difference that Al Haznawi had been dead for a week at the time of the second mailing.  It didnít make any difference that Al Haznawi's infection - described as a one-inch black lesion with raised red edges - could have been anything from an encrusted boil to a common scrape that received improper medical attention.  It didnít make any difference that it would be extremely unusual for someone to get cutaneous anthrax on their leg, a normally covered area of the body which wouldnít likely come in direct contact with anthrax spores.  It didnít make any difference that cutaneous anthrax is most common on hands and areas of the lower arm, or on the face.  It didnít make any difference that Al Haznawi said the "gash" resulted from bumping into something, and it was in a location very consistent with bumping into something.  People were looking for evidence that al Qaeda was behind the anthrax attack, and this was the best evidence they could find.  And some of them convinced Dr. Tsonas to speculate that the lesion could have been anthrax.   Who could prove that it wasnít?

ATTAíS RED HANDS

Back in October of 2001, US News & World Report had printed an article saying that in August of 2001 Mohamed Atta had discussed a medical problem with a pharmacist at Huber Healthmart Drugs in Delray Beach, Florida.  Atta was suffering from painful "red hands".  The assumption by al Qaeda theorists was that Atta had put his hands in bleach or some other disinfectant after working with anthrax.  Heíd gone into that drug store with another 9-11 terrorist, Marwan al-Shehhi, who had a "hacking cough" and bought a bottle of Robitussin to treat it.  Another indication that they were working with anthrax?  No trace of anthrax was ever found anywhere they had ever been, making it highly unlikely that they had ever been in contact with anthrax, but that didnít matter.   Nor did the fact that they were both dead at the time of the first mailing.

THE "J-LO LETTER"

In the two years prior to 9-11, postal inspectors investigated about 80 anthrax hoaxes per year.  David Lee Wilson, the head of the FBI's Hazardous Materials Response Unit, says that the number of credible bioterror threats or incidents rose dramatically between 1997 and 2000, up to roughly 200 per year, or one biological threat every couple of days.  "Most of them were anthrax hoaxes."  As soon as Bob Stevensí anthrax case was mentioned in Florida newspapers, someone in St. Petersburg sent a stack of anthrax hoax letters to various news organizations - including The  St. Petersburg Times.   Other anthrax hoax letters had been mailed shortly after 9-11.  Hereís one comment about the situation at AMI: "íIím not sure the FBI is ready for the amount of weird mail we get,í says Grant Balfour, a Sun writer. When you write about alien abductions, celebrity brawls and the size of Osama bin Ladenís private parts, youíre not surprised when letters arrive with dirty underwear, human feces, claims to being a Romanov heir and other rants."  According to the South Florida Business Journal, the company had a history of threats.

People see all sorts of connections between these hoaxes, al Qaeda and the actual anthrax mailings.  But one of the most persistent is the J-Lo letter.  It wasnít really a letter, it was a package.  And it didnít even mention anthrax.  It had nothing to do with anthrax.  The powder in the package was repeatedly identified as "soap powder".  It was some kind of screwball package sent to Jennifer Lopez c/o the Sun at the AMI address in Boca Raton.  Along with an "oddly worded" letter, the package reportedly contained a cheap Star of David charm or pendant, a cigar in a metal tube and a small vending-machine-size box of soap powder.  That made it very memorable and it was examined by several people - including Bob Stevens.  It was reportedly received around September 4th.  [CORRECTION made July 20, 2008:  According to The National Enquirer, the J-Lo package was received on September 19.]  The J-Lo letter may have seemed pertinent before it was learned that the anthrax letters were postmarked on September 18, but, regardless of what has been learned since that time, and as incredible as it may seem, many many people are still convinced that that was the anthrax letter.  Or it was one of TWO anthrax letters received at AMI.

TWO FLORIDA ANTHRAX LETTERS?

The idea that there were two anthrax letters delivered to AMI is still accepted today.  In the March 2003 issue of Esquire magazine, the author (Sean Flynn) of a lengthy article titled "Whatever Happened to Anthrax?" subscribed to the two letter theory.  And he gives good reason:  The CDC reported that there were two letters.

Hereís the CDC report: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol8no10/02-0354.htm

It includes this first paragraph in the Discussion Section: "This report describes the investigation of the first bioterrorism-related anthrax case identified in the United States. We detected two inhalational anthrax cases (including the index case) among workers of a Florida media company. Anthrax transmission and widespread environmental contamination throughout the workplace and in six local postal facilities most likely resulted from two letters containing B. anthracis spores delivered to the workplace."

Two letters?  What two letters?  There's no real indication that there were two letters.

Apparently the CDC was referring to a letter, said to have contained powder, that was opened by Bob Stevens on September 19th [CORRECTION made on July 20, 2008: According to The National Enquirer, the letter was actually opened by a recently hired news assistant named Bobby Bender], and the actual anthrax letter, the receipt of which is described in the CDC report this way: "The other co-worker, a 36-year-old woman, sorted mail and opened mail addressed to a periodical different from the one to which the index patient contributed.  She recalled opening an envelope that released powder in her office on or about September 25. Afterwards, she discarded it in the trash without reading it. The letter most likely had arrived during the previous 2 weeks while she was on vacation. No other workplace mail likely to contain B. anthracis was suggested through further interviews."

According to that same CDC report, the person who opened the anthrax letter on September 25 is the same person - Stephanie Dailey - who tested positive for anthrax spores in her nasal passages on Oct. 10.  Besides Bob Stevens and Ernesto Blanco, she was the only other person to test positive for exposure to anthrax.

But there are clear conflicts in the data.  The CDC's report is dated October 2002.  But in September of 2002, the FBI had gone into the AMI building without the CDC to determine exactly how the anthrax was spread.  Although the FBI didnít officially quash the idea that there were two letters, the FBI's findings indicated that the anthrax was spread by the handling and movement of copy machine paper throughout the building.  It all came from one source - the mailroom - where the copy machine paper is stored and where the anthrax letter was opened by Stephanie Dailey.

The CDC's report contains a floor plan from the AMI building from the first testing done in the building a year earlier.   That floor plan showing anthrax distribution patterns is HERE.

It seems to agree with the FBI findings and totally disagree with the CDC findings.  Here is the floor plan for the first floor, where the mail room was located:

The heavy concentration of positive tests in the area of the mail room confirms that the anthrax distribution came from there.

Here are the second floor test results.  No one who worked on the 2nd floor tested positive for anthrax, yet 10 of the roughly 79 tests on that floor showed positive results.  This can be easily explained if the cleaning crew went to the second floor after cleaning the first floor, and the vacuum cleaner sprayed spores around.

That AMI floor plan for the third floor shows just a few spores around Bob Stevens' work area, and a few others here and there.  Of approximately 98 tests performed, only 8 showed positive results.  This doesn't make much sense if the anthrax was distributed by handling copy paper for the copy machines, but it makes perfect sense if the cleaning crew cleaned the third floor last.  There would be fewer spores and more material in the vacuum cleaner bag, which would cause fewer spores to be blown out into the area.

If Stevens had opened the letter of Sept. 19 in the vicinity of his computer, certainly the entire area should have been contaminated.  It should have been as thoroughly contaminated with spores as the mailroom area on the first floor.  (If the anthrax letter was identical to the other media letters, the printing was in large block letters, and there would have been no reason for Stevens to have to bring it close to his face to read it, as he did with the letter opened Sept. 19.)

While there might have been reason early in the investigation to think there could have been two letters, the second examination of the AMI building appears to have removed that reason.

Yet, the CDC did not participate in that second examination, and there's no evidence that they have change their findings.  Officially, they still conclude that there were two letters!

Here is another official CDC chart, this one showing the most likely trail of the anthrax letters from where they were mailed to the victims affected by them:

Note that this chart shows no indication of a second anthrax letter to AMI.

There is absolutely no reason to believe that there was more than one anthrax letter received at AMI, although there may have been more than one letter with some kind of powder in it.

WHY ONLY INHALATION ANTHRAX IN FLORIDA?

One of the odd things about the anthrax attacks was the fact that 7 of the 8 New York cases had been cutaneous (the exception being Kathy Nguyen), and both Florida anthrax cases had been inhalation.  There were no cutaneous anthrax cases in Florida.

How could one mailing have caused such different results?  That question has generated at least one bizarre theory that says the culprit must have brewed up three batches of anthrax which were somehow engineered to cause only specific types of anthrax - just cutaneous or just inhalation anthrax.   According to this theorist, the first mailing to New York City could only cause cutaneous anthrax.  (He believes the Kathy Nguyenís case must have been caused by the second mailing, regardless of the astronomical odds against that happening.)  And a different batch of anthrax was sent to Florida, a batch that could only cause inhalation anthrax, which is a virtual medical impossibility.

The letters sent to the two Senators, according to this theorist, also contained anthrax which could only cause inhalation anthrax.  It doesnít bother him that two workers at Hamilton actually got cutaneous anthrax from the second mailing.  Heís able to rationalize how that would be possible if they came in contact with spores left over from the first mailing.

Since the AMI letter couldnít be from the second mailing because Bob Stevens was dead before those letters were mailed, and because they couldnít be from the first mailing because in his mind that mailing could only cause cutaneous anthrax, the theorist conjures up a "third mailing" that only went to Florida and which could only cause inhalation anthrax.

The fact that there were only inhalation anthrax cases in Florida is definitely a medical oddity.  But there seem to be three factors that help explain it:

(1)  The anthrax in the first five letters sent to the media was "unrefined".  It consisted of approximately 90 percent harmless debris and about 10 percent spores.  And most of the spores would be still inside the dead mother germs.  That would make it more difficult - but far from impossible - for a person to contract inhalation anthrax from such a mixture, because particles larger than 5 microns cannot generally be absorbed through the lungs.

(2)  The ages of the two Florida victims (63 and 73) clearly played a role.  An examination of the ages of all 12 victims of the first mailing shows that there was a 22 year age difference between the youngest inhalation victim (Kathy Nguyen, who was 61) and the oldest cutaneous victim (Richard Morgano, who was 39).  There is also a clear age difference in the cutaneous and inhalation victims of the second mailing, although it is not as pronounced.  The implication is that older people are like "canaries in a coal mine", i.e., they will be the first to die when there is something unhealthy in the air.

(3)  The environment - particularly the humidity - could have played a role.  Cutaneous anthrax occurs when anthrax spores enter the skin through breaks in the skin or through open cuts.  The humidity in September in Florida is vastly different from the humidity in New York City at that time of year and may have kept people in Florida from contracting cutaneous anthrax.  Fewer problems with spores entering through cracks in dry skin?  More rinsing with chlorinated water to get rid of sweat?  Whatever the reason, there were no cutanous anthrax cases in Florida.  But the least likely reason for that seems to be that the anthrax was engineered to cause only the inhalation form of anthrax.

HOW CAN SOMETHING SO SIMPLE BECOME SO COMPLICATED?

The anthrax mailer sent out five anthrax-laden letters that were postmarked on September 18.  Four went to addresses in New York and one went to an address in Florida.  The evidence thoroughly supports that conclusion.  People contracted anthrax in both locations - and at the postal facility in New Jersey where the letters were first handled.  And there seems to be good reason why the culprit addressed his letters to the various media organizations.

There is nothing complicated in that.  Yet, people will cling to misconceptions developed in the confusing days where the crisis first hit the headlines, and they'll leap upon irrelevant details and typical inconsistencies to develop wild theories that defy logic and accomplish nothing but to confuse all those who do not examine the evidence in detail.  Itís not malicious.  Itís just human nature.  But it certainly can be frustrating at times.
 

Ed Lake
First draft: Feb. 23, 2003
Second draft: Feb. 24, 2003
Revised (slightly): Feb. 28, 2003
Revised (slightly): Mar. 1, 2003
Revised: Mar. 5, 2003
Revised: Mar. 10, 2003
Revised: (slightly) Mar. 11, 2003
Revised: July 20, 2008 (Bobby Bender opened the J-Lo letter, not Bob Stevens)

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