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Wednesday, 24 October, 2001, 04:41 GMT 05:41 UK
Anthrax response angers postal workers
Washington postal workers queue to be tested for anthrax
It took several days for postal workers to be tested
Kevin Anderson

Postal workers in Washington are not frightened, they are angry.

Hundreds queued at a hospital in Washington to receive antibiotics.

They should have done something when the first letter went up there on Capitol Hill

Postal worker Robert Anderson
They openly wondered why staff members on Capitol Hill were tested immediately after anthrax was discovered in a letter sent to Senator Tom Daschle last week, but postal workers who sort the mail sent to the Capitol were not tested until days later and were told the threat was minimal.

Officials say they were going on the best information they had at the time, but workers wonder if lives could have been saved by a quicker response.

'Not surprised'

"They should have done something when the first letter went up there on Capitol Hill," said postal worker Robert Anderson.

US Postal Service poster on handling suspicious mail
Warnings have been issued about handling suspicious mail

"They are going to test everyone up there who had nothing to do with it, and yet they won't test us. Common sense would have told them the letter had to go through a postal facility before it went up there," he said.

Capitol Hill staff were tested immediately after a letter sent to Senator Daschle was discovered to have contained anthrax. Mass testing of postal workers did not begin until five days later.

Mr Anderson works three blocks from the Brentwood facility where two workers have already died from anthrax.

He said no one was surprised by the slow response. "We're mad. We're angry, but we're not surprised," he said.

Slow reaction

Postal workers also complained that gloves and masks were not issued until days after the discovery of anthrax on Capitol Hill.

US Paymaster General John E Potter
The post office said it would handle the problem differently in future

"When it first hit the Hill, we should have had gloves, masks, everything," said Catherine Cristwell, but it was not until Thursday that protective gear was issued.

Other workers said they were relying on the media for information because of the lack of information from postal service management.

"I saw it on the news. Nobody called me, not the post office. I just happened to see it on the news," said Wayne Bylan.

He found out Monday that two postal employees had died of anthrax from news reports before post office management told workers.

He had already made plans to see his personal physician.

'Risks minimal'

Deborah Willhite, a US Postal Service senior vice president, said that the problem would be handled differently in the future.

She tried to deflect criticism by refocusing attention on those who sent the anthrax-laden letters.

"The enemy is whoever sent this letter because they have now murdered two people and two people are seriously ill. That's the important thing people have to keep in focus," she said.

Although workers are now receiving antibiotics, they were told just last week that the risks were minimal, but officials said that they were going on the best information they had.

Centers for Disease Control Director Dr Jeffrey Koplan said that they believed a person would actually have to open the letter to be exposed.

He told the US Senate: "There was no reason to think - based on everything we had seen so far - that this was a possibility."


Washington Mayor Anthony Williams, speaking at a press conference at the Brentwood facility last week, said: "If we had known then what we know now, we would have acted earlier."

If the response had been sooner, at least a couple of lives could have been saved

Postal worker Robert Anderson

He said that of 29 tests taken at various parts of the Brentwood facility, 14 had come back positive for anthrax.

Mr Williams, like hundreds of postal workers, is now taking antibiotics.

Workers seem to be satisfied to at least have antibioticsd.

"We came down and have the medicine. Now I feel comfortable," said Mr Bylan.

But they are still left with a sense that officials should have begun testing at postal facilities when they began testing Capitol Hill staff members.

"If the response had been sooner, at least a couple of lives could have been saved," Mr Anderson said.

See also:

23 Oct 01 | Americas
Anthrax killed postal workers
23 Oct 01 | Americas
US press urge action over anthrax
23 Oct 01 | Americas
Postal service stung by criticism
22 Oct 01 | Health
Warning over anthrax antibiotic
15 Oct 01 | Health
Q&A: Anthrax infection
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