WASHINGTON -- Government health officials investigating the anthrax attacks are facing growing criticism for making false safety assurances that some experts say may be eroding public trust.
The controversy came to a head this week when officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that tens of thousands of pieces of mail might have been cross-contaminated at a New Jersey postal facility that had processed the anthrax-laden letters to Democratic Sens. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont and Tom Daschle of South Dakota.
That conclusion stemmed from the discovery last week of a letter in Seymour, Conn., that appears to have been contaminated while being processed shortly after the Leahy letter.
After assuring Americans for weeks that their mail was safe, postal and public-health officials now are exploring whether similar cross-contamination was a factor in the deaths of Ottilie Lundgren, 94, of Oxford, Conn., and Kathy T. Nguyen, 61, of New York. Cross-contamination also is believed to have caused a less-serious case of skin anthrax in a New Jersey accountant.
"There are rules in public health about dealing with these kinds of things, and they seem to have broken every one of them," said Helen Schauffler, director of the Center of Health and Public Policy Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. "You don't speculate about what might be happening. You don't falsely reassure. It only undermines people's confidence."
CDC officials said they were discussing how or whether they would notify Americans who might have received cross-contaminated mail, but they had made no final decision.
They stressed that they still believed the risk of infection caused by cross-contamination is low.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.