"Yeah, now they're
giving us gloves and masks," Palmer says. "We should've been the first
Monday, as thousands of workers at Brentwood and other mail-sorting
facilities here went to a local hospital for testing, it was clear that
postal workers could become the primary victims of the bioterrorism
attacks that first struck U.S. media and political institutions.
Brentwood, apprehension and anxiety gave way to anger at a government
many felt had betrayed them. If they had been tested at the same time as
lawmakers and their aides on Capitol Hill, some wondered, would their
dead colleagues still be alive? Are they at greater risk now, because of
the delay in testing?
Government officials scrambling to get a handle on the anthrax outbreak
rejected suggestions that they did not move quickly enough to test
Former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, head of the new Homeland
Security Office, said officials needed time to trace the movements of
the Daschle letter backward from Capitol Hill to a mail facility
operated by the U.S. Capitol Police that showed signs of anthrax
contamination only after several tests were conducted.
being mailed in New Jersey, the tainted letter had passed through the
Brentwood facility before going to the police center, which sorts mail
headed to U.S. lawmakers.
Officials "followed the chain" and "moved as quickly as they could,"
Postmaster General John Potter said. "This is not a situation where
America should be pointing fingers at anyone else other than the
terrorists. We are dealing with new experiences. We're all dealing with
Garland, a spokeswoman for the CDC, added that "we're obviously
concerned when there are deaths that things could have been done
differently. We've done the best we could with the information that we
knew at the time."
in the new age of bioterrorism, officials are discovering that what they
once thought unimaginable is now reality. Until this month, there had
not been a death from inhalation anthrax in this country in 25 years,
and just 18 deaths overall in the last century.
Officials acknowledge they are still learning how to respond to such
Earlier this month, officials were guarded about diagnoses. On Monday,
in announcing the two deaths, they said simply that they assume
anthrax was the cause.
Autopsies are being conducted on both victims, but Surgeon General David
Satcher says inhalation anthrax is "highly probable."
is some serious stuff," says Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy
anthrax attacks have forced law enforcement and public health officials
in New Jersey, New York, Florida and Washington to spend millions of
dollars investigating anthrax, prompted an unprecedented shutdown of the
U.S. Capitol last week, and now have raised new fears among thousands of
postal workers about their vulnerability.
"Postal employees are uncertain and afraid for their health and that of
their families," says William Burrus, executive vice president of the
American Postal Workers Union.
Although authorities have not yet linked the anthrax attacks to the
Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, there are
significant parallels. Just as the suicide hijackers turned ordinary
commercial jets into deadly bombs, the culprits behind the anthrax
attacks have turned the daily mail into a deadly weapon.
Apparently, it's not hard to do.
millions of letters and packages that travel through this city's main
mail-processing center are dumped, shuffled, tossed and shaken. Much of
the mail is fed through sorting machines that generate small winds,
almost imperceptible breezes that government officials never gave a
second thought. Until now.
workers here want to know which of these acts involving the mail could
create enough billowing effect to keep anthrax spores aloft long enough
to be inhaled into the lungs. "As soon as they found out about it, they
should have tested us then," says Bianca Halsey, 29, who handles mail
opened by accident or separated from a stack. "But they didn't think we
could get it."
testing of postal workers here began Sunday afternoon, about 5 hours
before Thomas Morris, a mail sorter at Brentwood, died at a D.C.
hospital. Nasal swabs are being taken of all workers at Brentwood and
about 150 others at an air-mail facility near Baltimore-Washington
International Airport. They were given a 10-day supply of the antibiotic
Cipro. Tonight, the chief
medical examiner for the District of Columbia identified one of the
postal workers as Thomas L. Morris Jr. A friend and neighbor identified
the other as Joseph Curseen, 47, of Clinton, Md.
initial test results were far more disturbing than first feared because
they revealed that employees throughout the 700,00-square-foot Brentwood
facility, which handles all mail to Washington, might have been exposed.
had to fight to get the gloves at work," says Phyllis West, 57, a
Brentwood worker. She got gloves on Thursday.
first confirmation of a postal worker having inhalation anthrax came
Sunday morning. Leroy Richmond, 57, works in the express-mail section at
Brentwood and shuttled between there and the air-mail center near BWI.
Monday, the second inhalation case was confirmed in a Brentwood loading
dock supervisor. His name has not been released. Like Richmond, he is in
serious condition at a hospital in suburban Virginia.
has become maddeningly usual in these bioterrorist attacks, there are
more questions than answers: How did the anthrax come into contact with,
and then infect, so many workers in so many places around the building?
Did a letter or package containing the deadly spores break open? Did an
envelope tear? Did someone plant anthrax in the building itself, where
authorities have yet to detect it?
lot of times, envelopes are ripped in the machines. It could've gotten
out that way," says John Ford, a retired postal worker and now a
representative with the postal workers union.
66, used to work in the same express-mail section as Richmond. Ford says
that blowers used to clean mail-processing machines could easily spread
airborne anthrax spores. "It just blows it out all over the place," he
precaution, the machines are being vacuumed.
the postal workers who operate the sorting equipment feel vulnerable.
"Somebody's got to dump (the mail) on there," says Carlos Dickson, 60, a
25-year postal worker at Brentwood.
New Jersey, where two postal workers are being treated for skin anthrax,
the less-deadly form of the disease, the mood among mail carriers is
Jersey remains the most promising avenue for the investigation. FBI
agents continued a door-to-door canvas of all 560 stops on the route of
a Trenton mail carrier being treated for skin anthrax.
anthrax-laden letters, to Daschle, the New York Post and NBC
television anchor Tom Brokaw, were postmarked in Trenton, authorities
say. The Daschle letter was also postmarked in Trenton, although
authorities have not yet homed in on where it was mailed.
Martin D'Autrechy, 45, of Burlington, N.J., vowed to carry on. "If we
allow those individuals to scare us, we might as well fold up."
Locy, Traci Watson, Mimi Hall, Dennis Cauchon and Stephanie Armour.