- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2003

The first few customers trickled into the newly reopened postal facility in Northeast yesterday, two years after the building on Brentwood Road was shuttered because of anthrax contamination.

The facility was rededicated at a ceremony Sunday to honor Joseph Curseen Jr. and Thomas Morris Jr., two workers killed by pulmonary anthrax after handling mail headed for Capitol Hill.

“I used to come here at least once a week,” said Herbert Roderick, 62, owner of Capitol Cab. “I am glad to see it open. It is just a matter of time before people start coming back.”

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting Democratic congressional representative, spoke to about 1,300 people at the dedication ceremony Sunday. She called the opening of the Curseen-Morris Mail Processing and Distribution Center “a new day for the U.S. Postal Service.”

Deborah A. Yakley, postal service spokeswoman, said: “We sent letters to all the customers informing them it would be reopened.”

“Of course, we don’t have the post-office-box section yet, which brings in a lot of traffic,” said Miss Yakley, who expects the building to be fully operational by mid-February.

Despite the anthrax scare two years ago, customers yesterday seemed comfortable using the facility.

“There are germs everywhere,” said Melissa Evans of Hyattsville. “To me, it’s safe. If it wasn’t safe they would not have reopened it.”

The 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week facility has been closed to the public since Oct. 21, 2001, after Mr. Curseen, 47, of Clinton, and Mr. Morris, 55, of Suitland died from handling the anthrax-tainted mail. The letters were sent to the Capitol Hill offices of Democratic Sens. Tom Daschle, South Dakota, and Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont. Their offices were decontaminated with a process that was later used to clean the Brentwood facility.

The 633,000-square-foot facility was closed and its 2,500 employees transferred to other postal facilities. Much of the mail that was processed at Brentwood was diverted to a distribution center in Capitol Heights.

The building at 900 Brentwood Road NE underwent a $130 million, 17-hour fumigation process. Chlorine dioxide was pumped throughout the sealed building to ensure toxins were eliminated, Miss Yakley said. Office equipment, machinery, plumbing and other fixtures were either rebuilt or replaced.

“I don’t have any problem going in,” said Robin Banks, 35, of Northeast. “They should have it cleaned by now.”

Miss Yakley doesn’t think the safety concerns will keep away customers.

“We’ve had people trying to get in there for the past few weeks, so obviously people are wanting to come in there and transact business,” she said.

Pam Simmons of Northeast, who was among the first customers yesterday, agreed.

“I love it,” she said. “I am glad it’s back. I missed the great service, and I hope it never closes again.”

While some workers returned to the facility earlier this month to prepare for yesterday’s public opening, about 100 Brentwood workers opted not to return. For the returning staff, it was their first time back since being ushered out by workers in hazardous-materials suits two years ago.

Several employees had said postal authorities withheld anthrax warnings and as a result several workers became sick.

The FBI has been investigating the anthrax-laced letters, which killed five persons nationwide. All the victims suffered from pulmonary anthrax, the most deadly form of the disease.

Harold West, who has been a post office employee for more than 30 years, returned to the facility a few weeks ago and believes it is safe.

John Worth, a postal employee visiting from another facility, said he was happy to see things getting back to normal.

“The lines are short,” he said. “I wish it had been open last week, when all the other lines at all the other postal facilities were long.”

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