- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2003

Hundreds of thousands of people missed their mail, 11 U.S. Postal Service facilities shut down and five postal workers were treated with antibiotics yesterday while scientists tested air samples for traces of anthrax. They found none.

Two distribution centers at V Street in Northeast and Baltimore Avenue in Maryland were reopened last night after officials announced testing showed no signs of anthrax. Nine other post offices will reopen today.

Postal officials gave assurances last night that mail is safe from anthrax contamination. “Tests have shown there is nothing there,” said Postal Service spokesman Gerald McKiernan.

The scare began Wednesday when a testing device on a mail sorting machine at the Anacostia Naval Station detected biological pathogens, signaling possible anthrax contamination, officials said.

A follow-up test Thursday also indicated possible anthrax, leading postal officials to close the V Street distribution center in Northeast and 10 post offices that receive mail from the center as a precaution.

A third round of testing showed no signs of anthrax, officials said last night as they announced the reopening of the facilities.

While scientists tested air and swab samples yesterday, closure of the mail facilities triggered a massive response from federal agencies, stirred up unwelcome memories of the anthrax attacks that claimed five lives two years ago, including two D.C. postal workers, and slowed ground mail delivery to a crawl.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security investigated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Defense, as well as local and county governments in the District, Maryland and Virginia.

Some postal employees yesterday questioned the decision of senior management officials not to disclose until late Thursday night that early test results had indicated possible anthrax contamination.

“If they first found out Wednesday, then I might have a problem with that,” said Pat Johnson, president of the American Postal Workers Union local in the District. “But nobody knows for sure right now because we’re just waiting for the tests to come in.”

However, Mr. McKiernan said once they found out about the possible contamination officials did not delay in passing the information on to employees.

“We made that decision within hours of learning there was a preliminary positive result,” Mr. McKiernan said.

The Postal Service closed four branch offices in the District at V Street NE; Southwest Post Office in Southwest; and Ward Place Station and Friendship Station, both in Northwest. The South Station, Eads Street Station and Buckingham Station post offices were closed in Arlington. In Maryland, officials closed facilities at Andrews Air Force Base, Second Avenue in Silver Spring, the Calvert Distribution Center in West Hyattsville and the Westlake Post Office in Bethesda.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the Postal Service has decided to close and test facilities for biohazard contamination. Customers served by these facilities could expect minimal delays,” Postal Service spokesman Azeezala Jaffer said in a statement yesterday announcing the decision.

“The Postal Service took appropriate steps by shutting down certain facilities to safeguard employees,” said Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and chairman of the Senate Government Affairs Commission, which oversees the Postal Service.

“Unfortunately, this incident also shows how vulnerable we still are to bioterrorist attacks,” she said.

After the initial finding, eight air samples were sent for testing to a government contractor, Louisiana-based Shaw Environmental Inc., at Fort Detrick, the Army’s biological defense center, according to Lt. Cmdr. Edward Zeigler, spokesman for the Naval District of Washington.

Cmdr. Zeigler said preliminary testing of the samples showed a positive result for one sample but seven others tested negative.

Mr. Jaffer said mail from the Navy sorting center was processed at the Postal Service’s V Street facility.

Officials said five mail workers at the Navy’s mail sorting center received antibiotics yesterday, although none of the employees showed any signs of illness.

Tammy Thompson, president of the Montgomery County local of the American Postal Workers Union, said none of the Postal Service workers in Maryland took antibiotics.

“It’s being discussed a lot today,” Miss Thompson said. “Everybody is checking to see if they have flulike symptoms.”

Yesterday’s scare came as officials prepared to reopen the 633,000-square-foot Brentwood mail facility in Northeast, which closed Oct. 21, 2001, after two employees came in contact with anthrax-laced mail later delivered to the Hart Senate Office Building.

Both employees later died, and Brentwood was renamed in their memory. They were Joseph Curseen Jr., 47, of Clinton, and Thomas Morris Jr., 55, of Suitland.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide