- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 23, 2003

Government officials are confident that the Curseen-Morris Mail Processing and Distribution Center — formerly known as the Brentwood Postal Facility — is free of anthrax and other toxins and will reopen late next month.

Postal, government and employee leaders agreed during the hearing yesterday that the mail facility in Northeast has been decontaminated and almost totally rebuilt for the safety of mail handlers.

“It’s a virtually new facility now,” said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who expects to tour Curseen-Morris next week with Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform.

The facility is safe as it can be, but “the Postal Service cannot assert that the building is 100 percent free of anthrax contamination,” Bernard L. Ungar, a director with the U.S. General Accounting office, said at yesterday’s hearing.

The 633,000-square-foot Brentwood mail facility, where 2,500 employees worked 24 hours daily, seven days a week, was closed Oct. 21, 2001, after two employees came in contact with anthrax-laced mail that subsequently was 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.

“Brentwood was on the front line in the war with terrorism,” Mr. Davis said.

The incident occurred a month after terrorists killed about 3,000 persons by crashing hijacked airliners into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in New York.

Mr. Davis explained that precautions and safety measures activated at Brentwood are being used across the nation. A recent example is an incident on Wednesday when a post office in Greenville, S.C., was closed after a vial within an envelope was found to contain the deadly poison ricin. The mail operations were moved to another location while the post office was decontaminated and about 30 employees questioned.

“How the Postal Service handles the situation in Greenville will certainly show how well they have learned the lessons of Brentwood,” Mr. Davis said.

Yesterday, Mrs. Norton asked why postal managers did not provide more timely information about the anthrax exposure to employees and why Brentwood remained open and operating for six days and nights after the Hart Building was closed.

“The anthrax attacks and cleanup efforts were situations never before experienced,” said Thomas G. Day, vice president of Postal Service engineering. “We were writing the book.”

When the Hart Building was closed, postal officials had no idea that the Brentwood mail facility might be contaminated, Mr. Day said. Then officials learned similar anthrax letters caused closure of a postal facility in Trenton, N. J.

Officials said yesterday they now are communicating more frequently with employees and supervisors, including almost daily meetings on safety measures.

Brentwood employees were assigned to other postal facilities in the D.C. area and are being informed that they have a choice of whether to return to the Curseen-Morris facility when it reopens.

Mail handlers who do not wish to return can be transferred to a nearby location, said Richard Collins, assistant president of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union.

Mr. Day said Congress authorized $726 million to decontaminate and restore postal facilities that were infected and damaged by anthrax. It cost about $125 million to decontaminate and rebuild Brentwood, including disposal of 600 tons of debris.

“The facility is safe. There is absolutely no risk,” said Mr. Ungar.

The anthrax onslaught caused 22 illnesses and five deaths. No one has been arrested and charged with the crimes.

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