- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 (UPI) — As the Postal Service announced Wednesday all tests at its Washington facility were negative for anthrax, a watchdog group alleged the Postal Service might have endangered the lives of workers by delaying the shutdown of the facility until Tuesday.

Despite indications U.S. Postal Service officials knew on Jan. 3 that a letter suspected of being contaminated with anthrax had passed through its V Street facility, the facility was not shut down and tested until 10 days later, on Tuesday, Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, told United Press International.

"The government has known since Jan. 3 that anthrax was again in the system yet they did not notify the postal workers at ground zero, which would be V Street," Fitton added.

The delay in shutting down the facility is similar to how postal officials handled the Brentwood facility during the anthrax attacks in 2001. During that episode, two workers died from anthrax infection, Fitton said.

Judicial Watch is representing postal workers in a lawsuit filed in December that alleges the Postal Service delayed closing the Brentwood facility in 2001 despite evidence it was contaminated with anthrax. The group might consider legal action against postal officials for not taking quicker action at the V Street facility, Fitton said.

The Postal Service said Tuesday it had shut down its V Street facility in Washington and begun testing it for anthrax after the deadly bacteria was detected at the mail processing facility for the Federal Reserve Board on Jan. 3. The V Street facility processes mail headed for FRB.

All tests were negative for anthrax at the V Street facility, Thomas Day, vice president of engineering at the Postal Service, said at a news briefing Wednesday. Eighty-six air and surface samples all indicated no evidence of the bacteria, Day said.

The Postal Service maintained it was not informed of the possible anthrax contamination at Federal Reserve until this week. "The Postal Service first learned of it this week," spokesman Bob Anderson told UPI.

Another postal service spokeswoman, Deborah Yackley, was more specific, saying postal officials had not learned of the positive results at the Federal Reserve until "late Tuesday." At that time, the facility was closed and officials began collecting samples to test for evidence of anthrax, Yackley told UPI.

"All the mail we deliver to (the Federal Reserve) does get irradiated," Yackley noted, which should kill anthrax and other biological pathogens. The letter in question at the Federal Reserve that tested positive for anthrax might not have been handled by the postal service and could have been delivered by commercial carriers, she said.

Test results from the Federal Reserve facility are still pending. Both initial and confirmatory tests on the letter were positive. Samples have been sent to a lab at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services for further analysis.

The North Carolina lab is "part of the lab response network, a system of labs hooked in with (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) that are set up for things like anthrax," CDC spokesman Dave Daigle told UPI.

The North Carolina lab will do a rapid test on the samples and if that is positive, they will then do further tests to confirm the presence of anthrax, Daigle said.

Debbie Crane, spokesperson for the North Carolina Health Department, acknowledged tests for anthrax were being conducted on the samples but she said the results were not yet available.

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