NY postal union slates anthrax response

By CHANAN TIGAY  |  Oct. 23, 2001 at 7:35 PM
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NEW YORK, Oct. 23 (UPI) -- The president of the New York Metro Area Postal Union Tuesday lashed out at the city's postal authorities, saying they were not taking anthrax serious enough.

"They are waiting for a disaster to take place before they move," said William Smith, who represents New York's postal clerks, maintenance workers and drivers. He told UPI. "Since no one has become ill here yet, they haven't done anything. That is why two employees in Washington, D.C., have lost their lives."

Two Washington postal workers died after being exposed to the inhalation form of anthrax. A possible case of inhalation anthrax is also being investigated in a Trenton postal worker.

Postal inspector Peter Nash, however, said claims like Smith's are "outrageous."

"Every time that there is a call to the inspection service from a postal employee who suspects a piece of mail may contain anthrax ... they call us and we respond," he said. "We tell them 'don't touch it,' then we come to look at it."

Smith said that since the first case of anthrax was reported, the Postal Service has made gloves and respirator masks available to those handling the mail, but has not made their use mandatory.

"The only other precautions they've taken are saying that if you think a piece of mail is contaminated, don't touch it," Smith said. "Get in touch with a supervisor and they'll contact the Centers for Disease Control to deal with it. Then get out of the area."

Smith insisted that the Postal Service knew of the bio-terror threat as early as 1998 when then Postmaster General Marvin Runyon sent out a memo about the risks that included CDC guidelines on dealing with it.

"They have violated it and they know they have," he said.

For his part, Nash said, "We have checked out all of these complaints."

"We take it seriously enough that local managers have decided to evacuate several buildings," he said, noting that the Lenox Hill postal station was evacuated on Tuesday for four hours after white powder was discovered in a piece of mail.

Smith said the postal authorities have begun doing random checks of post office machinery, and have passed out antibiotics to some 2,000 employees at the Morgan Processing and Distribution Center, the facility through which all mail entering Manhattan passes.

"It is almost 100 percent certain that the letter from Trenton to Tom Brokaw went through Morgan," Nash said, referring to an anthrax-contaminated letter sent to the NBC news anchor. "It went from Morgan up to the Times Square station then on up to NBC."

Nash said the anti-biotic Cipro has been distributed to more than 7,000 postal workers across Manhattan and the Bronx, including Morgan. Over the last eight or nine days, he said, the inspector's office has received over 300 suspicious package calls.

"Everything has turned up negative," he said, noting that some results are still pending.

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