- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 29, 2002

The Senate is looking into complaints from a half-dozen Senate offices that staffers suffered health problems after handling mail that was irradiated to kill anthrax spores.
This week, a task force is to hold its first meeting to analyze reports of reactions to irradiated mail, said Ranit Schmelzer, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. She said the panel would be made up of the Senate sergeant-at-arms and representatives from the U.S. Postal Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency and the House.
After an anthrax-contaminated letter was discovered in October in Mr. Daschle's office in the Hart Senate Office Building, all mail service to Capitol Hill offices was stopped for six weeks. All congressional mail is now irradiated at Postal Service facilities in Ohio and New Jersey before being delivered. Mail to federal office buildings in the District also is treated.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, in a letter Friday to Mr. Daschle, said her chief of staff reported a burning sensation on his hands after going through his mail, and her office manager complained of eye, nose and throat irritation as well as headaches, a metallic taste and a burning sensation on her hands and face.
Other staff had described feeling dizzy and nauseated when working with mail, she wrote.
Mrs. Feinstein's spokesman, Howard Gantman, said the health problems were temporary but still worrisome. He said the amount of radiation being used was more intense than that used for sterilizing medical equipment, because health experts do not know the levels needed to kill anthrax spores.
David Carle, spokesman for Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said two persons in Mr. Leahy's office had experienced symptoms such as lightheadedness, rashes, nausea and headaches when opening mail. He said they now wear gloves and open doors and windows when going through the mail.
"Senator Daschle takes the concerns raised by Senator Feinstein and others very seriously," Miss Schmelzer said. "He wants to do everything to ensure that everyone is safe and stays healthy."
Postal Service spokesman Gerry Kreienkamp said the agency found no clinical evidence that the irradiation process caused health problems.
Earlier this month, at least 11 workers at the Commerce Department complained of nausea, breathing problems and throat irritation in an incident apparently linked to irradiated mail. A D.C. Fire Department spokesman said a package of copier paper that was tightly wrapped in plastic gave off a bad-smelling gas when opened.

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