- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Yesterday, D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams confirmed that the two postal workers at the Brentwood facility who recently died under suspicious circumstances were victims of an anthrax attack.
This did not come as a surprise, considering that two other workers at Brentwood had been previously diagnosed with pulmonary, or inhalation, anthrax. In fact, it appears that the entire building, the District's central postal processing facility, has been contaminated with the anthrax-causing bacteria. As a result, the Brentwood building has been declared a crime scene and closed for decontamination. All District postal workers have been provided with antibiotics, and other precautions are being taken to protect them. Tragically, many of those workers may have been unnecessarily exposed to the anthrax.
The day after it became apparent that a letter to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle was laced with anthrax, Brentwood employees were told that anthax testing was unnecessary. By contrast, Senate staffers were immediately tested and offered treatment for anthrax exposure, a course of action that may well have saved lives. The same pattern was repeated at the central post office processing center in Hamilton, N.J., where 900 postal employees are stationed. The postal center stayed open even after it was determined that the anthrax-laden envelopes that were sent to Tom Brokaw had been processed there, and even after it became clear that the anthrax-containing letter received by Mr. Daschle had been processed there.
A central problem appears to be that advisers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) simply assumed that the anthrax had not spread because the threatening letters had remained tightly sealed. Apparently, no one considered that other methods of attack would be employed, such as using non-threatening letters or lacing the envelopes themselves with anthrax. Nor does it appear that anyone considered that the air blowers routinely used to clean mail-sorting machinery of debris could areosolize anthrax spores, leading to the cases of pulmonary anthrax.
Such mistaken presumptions and assumptions were easy to make, since America is in the throes of the first large-scale attack by biological weapons. Added to that is the simple fact that epidemiology is often an inexact science, depending on exposures and index cases before proper preventative precautions can be taken.
However, now that there is a war on, there is no excuse for routine precautions not to be taken. When testifying before a House subcommittee yesterday, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson pledged, "We're going to err on the side of caution in making sure people are protected." We should. Because of these biological attacks, an ounce of prevention may well be worth a pound of cure and the life of a postal worker. Indeed, the CDC must conduct its business as though the prevention part of its name is as important as the control aspect.


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