- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 23, 2001

Fear and frustration crept through the District's postal community yesterday as news spread that two D.C. postal workers had died, apparently from inhaling anthrax spores.
"They're not saying whether or not it was anthrax, but I definitely think it has something to do with it," said Brian McCutchan, a supervisor at the U.S. Post Office at 3178 Bladensburg Road NE.
Every piece of mail that goes through Mr. McCutchan's post office first goes through the central mail processing facility on Brentwood Road less than two miles away where the two dead workers are believed to have been exposed to the bacteria. "We've given out gloves and masks for protection to our mail handlers. I know there are people who are afraid," Mr. McCutchan said.
Charlotte Royster, a window clerk at the post office, said, "They're telling us 'go on with your normal duties,' but the type of work we do, we're working with all walks of life. Someone right now could hand me a letter with anthrax in it."
"It don't scare people until it hits home," Miss Royster said.
Hundreds of postal workers reporting for work yesterday at the Brentwood facility were loaded onto buses or drove to D.C. General Hospital, where they were examined for exposure to anthrax and given a 10-day supply of anti-anthrax medication. As the seriousness of the situation sank in, doctors told workers it would take "three to five" days to determine if they had been exposed.
"This is a monumental and phenomenal undertaking," said Kenneth "K.P." Hinton, 57, who has served as a postal worker for 34 years. He has worked for the past 12 years at Brentwood.
Standing outside D.C. General yesterday, Mr. Hinton wondered if the testing could have begun sooner since a letter that contained anthrax spores and was delivered earlier this month to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle very possibly "came through our station."
"We should have been tested before. I'd like for them to inform the employees sooner," said Ernest Murray Jr., 49, a 28-year post office employee.
The U.S. Postal Service and D.C. health department are doing what they should, said Robert Santana, 46, as he was leaving the hospital to return to work. He said, "We have to move the mail."
At Mr. McCutchan's post office, that's exactly what workers were doing all day yesterday. "How are you going to stop this?" he asked. "It's very difficult to scan every piece of mail. You're talking about thousands and thousands of letters every day, and that's just in the smaller post offices."
There are "so many letters that come through here every day, it's a possibility that the way the mail is processed, maybe if a letter had anthrax in it, some got out and into the air," Mr. McCutchan said.
Some workers said, given the danger, the Postal Service needs to take more safety precautions. India Dickerson, a manager at the Southern Maryland Processing and Distribution Center in Capitol Heights, took her two employees for testing on Sunday.
"Everyone is very cautious," Ms. Dickerson said. "Everyone is still coming to work and doing their jobs. But everyone is nervous."
Gregory Hembry of Hyattsville, who works at the Brentwood facility, said he was nervous about getting tested. "I'm worried," he said. "You just don't know what will happen."
Laurence Davis, who worked for the postal service for the last 16 years, echoed Mr. Hembry's feelings. "I hope I haven't been exposed to it," Mr. Davis said. "I haven't experienced any problems. I guess everyone is at risk right now."
But Tom Lapelosa, who works at the Southern Maryland center, isn't worried about the anthrax threat. "There are so many things out there, this is just another thing," he said. "You just have to take life one step at a time."
Ellen Sorokin contributed to this report.

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