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Thursday, 8 November, 2001, 12:04 GMT
Anthrax victim 'kept in the dark'
Brentwood postal facility, Washington
Testing for anthrax at Brentwood where Mr Morris worked
A postal worker who died of anthrax last month told emergency services he feared he had been exposed just hours before his death, it has been revealed.

Washington police made public an emergency phone call by the worker, Thomas Morris, who worked at the Brentwood postal facility which handled the infected letter sent to US Senate majority leader Tom Daschle last month.

A deadly week
13 Oct: Thomas Morris near white powder in letter
15 Oct: Senator Daschle opens a contaminated letter
18 Oct: Mr Morris goes to the doctor
20 Oct: Congress workers tested for anthrax
21 Oct: Mr Morris makes emergency phone call

Mr Morris told the operator that a week earlier a colleague had opened a letter containing white powder and he had been nearby and now suspected he had contracted anthrax.

Washington postal workers have complained that their welfare has been overlooked by the authorities, pointing out that, unlike workers at Congress, they were not treated immediately after the contaminated letter was sent to Senator Daschle.

Mr Morris is one of two Brentwood postal workers who died from inhalational anthrax. Two of their colleagues are seriously ill from the disease in hospital.

Suspicious symptoms

During the 11-minute phone call, Mr Morris said he was suffering headaches and breathing difficulties.

"I suspect that I might have been exposed to anthrax. I've been to the doctor but he never got back to me with the results. Now, I'm having difficulty breathing, and just to move any distance I feel like I'm gonna pass out," he said.

He said the doctor dismissed his worries, saying it was just a virus. Mr Morris died from anthrax in hospital just hours after his emergency call.

The 55-year-old postal worker said he had struggled to establish whether the powder his female co-worker had come across was anthrax.

No information

"They never let us know whether the thing ... was anthrax or not. They never treated the people who were around this particular individual and the supervisor who handled the envelope," he said during his emergency call.

US postal worker
Postal workers are now wearing masks and gloves
But Deborah Willhite, a senior vice president of the United States Postal Service, said the letter in question was turned over to the FBI at the time and it had tested negative.

She said workers were told "in a stand-up talk" of the results.

Inspectors have begun interviewing Mr Morris' co-workers in an attempt to reconstruct the event, in the hope that it could shed light on whether there have been two infected letters at Brentwood - previously they thought the mail sent to Senator Daschle was the only source.

Workers' complaints

That letter was sealed, whereas the mail Mr Morris reported seeing was opened. But if it did test negative, it indicates he may have become ill from the letter sent to Congress.

Mr Morris said he believed he was exposed to anthrax on 13 October, two days before the first known trace of the disease was found in Senator Daschle's office.

Although the Congressional staff were tested immediately, Brentwood employees were not tested until five days later.

Many postal workers have said they are relying on the media for information about anthrax because of the lack of information from the postal service.

The BBC's Duncan Kennedy
"Still nobody knows where the anthrax has come from"
Anthrax victim Thomas Morris
"My breathing is very, very laboured"
See also:

07 Nov 01 | Americas
US 'hopeful' anthrax scare over
04 Nov 01 | Americas
Anthrax cases baffle investigators
01 Nov 01 | Americas
Anthrax kills fourth American
31 Oct 01 | Americas
Cost of anthrax attacks 'surges'
27 Oct 01 | Americas
Anthrax found in Congress offices
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