9/11 anthrax scientists brought in to trace source of dead man's infection
SCIENTISTS who decontaminated Capitol Hill in Washington after senators there were mailed anthrax after the 11 September attacks began hunting for spores of the deadly infection at an artist's Borders home yesterday.
Five experts from Sabre, a New York-based company, joined a team from the Health Protection Agency's Laboratories at Porton Down to establish the source of the anthrax that killed Pascal Norris.
The 50-year-old, who made drums from animal skins, died on 8 July and was the first person to die from anthrax in Britain for 30 years.
A total of 71 people who were in contact with Mr Norris before his death or who attended his funeral wake in his home have since been prescribed antibiotics as a precaution.
However, none was showing symptoms of infection and Dr Andrew Riley, the director of public health at NHS Borders, said yesterday that none was at any risk.
Police yesterday sealed off the roads leading to Mr Norris' isolated home, Black Lodge, at Stobs in the countryside outside Hawick.
Paramedics stood by as the two teams dressed in full body protection suits and breathing through respirators entered the building in shifts.
It was the first time the artist's home had been opened up since his death from anthrax was confirmed in the middle of last month.
The house has been surrounded by an 8ft high steel fence.
Large yellow signs warning of a toxic danger have been fixed every 20 yards along the new perimeter.
The potential danger to anyone entering the scene was so high that the paramedics yesterday set up an inflatable decontamination unit to clean down the scientists each time they exited Black Lodge.
The teams from the US and Porton Down worked independently of each other yesterday to gather samples and are not expected to finish at the site until the end of the week.
The samples from both teams, the majority of which will be animal hides as these are thought most likely to be the source of the anthrax spores, will be taken to Porton Down for tests.
It is suspected that Mr Norris breathed in anthrax spores while stretching animal hides taut over frames to make his drums.
According to a source at Health Protection Scotland, when the artist shaved the animal skins to make them smooth he created thousands of tiny vibrations that shook free the spores and sent them flying into the air around his face.
Dr Riley said he expected the results from the tests in four to six weeks.
He defended the time being taken by the authorities to get to the bottom of the source of the deadly anthrax infection. He said: "All the agencies involved are working meticulously and we think getting this right means it is time well spent."
Friends of Mr Norris have said they doubted he had been importing animal skins from overseas, they have also said they did not believe he had been making drums to sell commercially.
Mark Entwistle, who had been a friend of the dead man for ten years, said: "He was a committed Buddhist. He wouldn't have killed something just to make a musical instrument but he wouldn't have been against using something that had died naturally or in an accident."
Five people died as a result of the Washington anthrax campaign which began when spore-laden letters were posted on 18 September and 9 October, 2001, to media organisations in New York and Florida, and to the offices of Tom Daschle, then the Senate Democratic leader, and a colleague, Senator Patrick Leahy, of Vermont.
The letters included photocopied notes referring to the 11 September attacks and Islamic rhetoric. No-one has been convicted over the campaign.
NHS Borders has set up a helpline for anyone who visited Mr Norris' home at Black Lodge, Stobs, Hawick and who has yet to make contact with them. The helpline is on 08000 282 816.
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