- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Two members of Congress, postal authorities, labor union leaders, health officials and construction repairmen appeared confident yesterday that they were not poisoned after touring the Brentwood Postal Facility — renamed the Curseen-Morris Mail Processing and Distribution Center.

“I’m confident I’m safe,” D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said. “We’re certainly not going to condemn this building. We’re not going to let it become a monument to anthrax terrorism.”

The 633,000-square-foot Brentwood facility in Northeast, where 2,500 employees worked seven days and nights a week, was closed Oct. 21, 2001, after two employees were infected by anthrax-laced mail.

The employees, Joseph Curseen Jr., 47, of Clinton, and Thomas Morris Jr., 55, of Suitland, died, and the Brentwood facility was closed for decontamination and renovation. The building was renamed in their honor.

“If it’s not safe, we’ll be the guinea pigs,” said U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican. “As members of Congress, we wouldn’t ask our employees to go anywhere it’s dangerous. I believe it is safe.”

Postal administrators are expected to return to their jobs in the Curseen-Morris mail center by Dec. 21. Other employees, who are willing to return, will resume their positions in early January, officials said yesterday.

About 50 employees have expressed an unwillingness to return and have been assigned to other buildings, and “several employees retired,” spokesman Bob Anderson said.

Several employees had complained that postal authorities withheld anthrax warnings, and as a result, several employees became sick. One female employee said transfer employees would be penalized by losing their seniority.

“Her statement is inaccurate,” said William Burrus, president of American Postal Workers Union. However, “there is a lingering resentment in some employees,” he said.

Most employees are clerks, who will retain seniority. Only drivers and maintenance employees lose seniority if transferred to another facility. All postal employees retain other benefits, including sick leave and health insurance, he said.

“I’m not afraid. I felt strongly about coming back in here,” said Clyde Howard, a postal machines mechanic testing the distribution belts beneath hundreds of fake letters yesterday.

Nearby was a khaki-colored one-foot square box, called a dry filter unit. It is one of five units in the building since May that constantly test the air for contaminants such as anthrax, said Thomas G. Day, postal engineering vice president.

About $100 million is being spent for a more sophisticated bio-technological system to be installed in all U.S. post offices during January, Mr. Day said.

Large plastic sheets covered new escalators in the building at 900 Brentwood Drive NE, where workmen were drilling on new door frames, and carpet was being laid on some floors in preparation for the reopening.

Much of the mail that was sorted at the Brentwood facility was diverted to a mail distribution center in Capitol Heights.

Some of the mail-sorting for the District will remain at Capitol Heights until normal operations are phased in at the Curseen-Morris facility, postal officials said.

Decontamination and renovation of Curseen-Morris is costing $130 million, said Mr. Davis, chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform.

Right after Brentwood was closed, 300 Clark Construction crewmen began working 12-hour shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, said Clark superintendent Charles Arnold.

“We had it wiped down and cleaned up in 45 days,” Mr. Arnold said.

Repairs and renovation included tearing out the masonry and many plumbing fixtures in the 36 restrooms, he said. Everything will be done by Dec. 19.

“Certainly, there’s still some apprehension among our members,” said Joseph E. Henry, president of Branch 142 of the National Association of Letter Carriers.

“Many would be happy to return to a place they can call home,” said Mr. Henry, who toured the facility in April and July. However, “old concerns are easily raised.”

A letter tainted with anthrax that passed through Brentwood before being delivered to the Hart Senate Office Building was tracked to Trenton, N.J., where other postal facilities also were closed. The anthrax onslaught caused 22 illnesses and five deaths. No one has been arrested or charged with the crimes.

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