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Saturday, 20 October, 2001, 16:30 GMT 17:30 UK
Postal service endures anthrax scares
United States post office on 34th Street in Manhattan
Security has been beefed up at this Manhattan post office
David Schepp

"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."

This is the inscription on the front of the United States post office on 7th Avenue in New York.

New US Postal Service
The postal service has pushed ahead its release date for new patriotic stamps
Anthrax scares can now be added to the list.

In an effort to assure Americans that it is doing everything possible to allay concern over possible anthrax-tainted mail, the US Postal Service (USPS) has put up a $1m award for information leading to the arrest of anthrax mailers.

It will also send notices to each and every US household and business on how to identify and handle suspicious letters and packages.

Keeping calm, delivering the mail

"My message to the American public is: Remain calm. Be vigilant. Be aware of what you get in the mail," says Postmaster General John Potters.

Postal service spokeswoman Pat McGovern says the concerns over anthrax tainted mail are unprecedented, "but we're keeping a level head about it."

She notes the post office has had experience dealing with hazardous materials, such as blood and lab samples, and already has procedures in place to deal with them.

Postal Service spokeswoman Pat McGovern
Postal Service spokeswoman Pat McGovern says employees are keeping a level head
"The postal service has handled hazardous substances for years," Ms McGovern says. "We're really just stepping up our caution."

Postal employees have been briefed on ways to spot questionable mail and what to do if they see something unusual.

Protecting employees

Some examples of suspicious packages or letters include those without return addresses as well as those with incorrect addresses or misspellings or that are oddly shaped or lopsided.

The postal service has also issued its employees with gloves and dust masks in an effort to ensure their safety.

Postal officials confirmed on Thursday that a New Jersey postal worker tested positive for skin anthrax - and offered a $1m reward for information as they tried to calm public fears.

Cipro supply at pharmacy
Americans are clamouring to buy drugs to counter possible anthrax exposure
Handling contaminated letters sent to the NBC television network and to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, officials say, may have infected the postal worker. Both letters had New Jersey postmarks.

Daunting job

The US Postal Service (USPS) has a daunting job, delivering as many pieces of mail in one day as either Federal Express or United Parcel Service handles in a year.

That adds up to about 680 million pieces of mail a day. And the postal service can now add 147 million postcards it will mail to homes, businesses and post office boxes, advising postal patrons on what to watch for in possibly tainted packages or envelopes.

Keeping mail flowing

Postmaster General Potter has expressed anger at the possibility of anthrax-tainted mail being delivered to offices of a tabloid newspaper publishing company in Florida earlier this month.

Mail being examined
Postal service employees have been issued gloves and trained on spotting suspicious packages
"We are taking every possible measure to ensure the safety of all," Mr Potter said in a video titled "Keeping our Focus".

Mr Potter has sought to ensure government officials and the American people understand the post office is continuing to deliver the mail as quickly and safely as possible under the circumstances.

One measure the postal service has taken is to halt bulk shipments on commercial aircraft, instead shifting a large portion of those items to trucking companies and all-cargo commercial airlines.

Mail delivery is vital to the economy, postal officials say, especially to businesses who rely on mail delivery to get products to their customers, such as cataloguers and firms who prepare mailings for other firms.

"A lot of people around the country depend on the mail and it running well," says the Postal Service's McGovern. "And we're continuing to deliver it."

See also:

18 Oct 01 | Americas
Bio-labs face tight security
17 Oct 01 | Americas
Anthrax: Vehicle for spreading fear
18 Oct 01 | Americas
Senate workers line up for tests
17 Oct 01 | Americas
Using anthrax as a weapon
16 Oct 01 | Americas
Tracking the anthrax spore
15 Oct 01 | Health
Q&A: Anthrax
18 Oct 01 | Africa
Kenya finds anthrax letter
19 Oct 01 | Americas
US anthrax strains the same
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