Serious questions are being raised about whether the government moved quickly enough to protect postal workers, as Diana Olick reports.
This central mail-processing center serves the entire DC area including the mail headed to Capitol Hill. It employs more than 2,000 workers. Now two of those workers are dead and two others are hospitalized with the dangerous inhalation form of anthrax. Health officials say they responded to the threat as quickly as possible, but a lot of the folks who work here disagree.
"I think we should've got tested last week, right along with the folks up on the hill," says Robert Santana, a Washington, DC, postal worker.
That's because a letter sent to Senator Tom Daschle which contained anthrax would have had to come through this mail-processing center. But it wasn't until Sunday morning, when one postal worker was confirmed as having contracted the inhalation form of anthrax, that the center was even checked.
"They moved back, followed the chain as quickly as they possibly can," said Tom Ridge, director of the Office of Homeland Security then. "We will do everything we can, they will do everything to expedite that, but I think they moved quickly."
But by Monday, one more postal worker was diagnosed with anthrax and two others were dead.
"It is very clear that their symptoms are suspicious and their deaths are likely due to anthrax," Ridge now says.
Officials from the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] say they don't know how the anthrax got into the post office air, but bioterrorism experts have their theories.
"You have edges here on either end that are open, and perhaps the letter is whipping through the high-speed equipment that they have, which is perhaps pushing a little bit of the anthrax out," speculates William Patrick, a bioterrorism expert and consultant to CBS News.
And it may not even take high-speed equipment. Evidence? The traces of anthrax found in one House office building where mail is processed for the Capitol. Congressional leaders are waiting for more test results and decided late yesterday to keep all of the Capitol office buildings closed, although the Capitol itself is open. Meanwhile hundreds more postal workers lined up yesterday to be tested.
"The mail and our employees have become a target of terrorists," says US Postmaster General John Potter. "It is equally clear that we must take extraordinary steps to protect them both."
The postmaster general says the postal service will not curtail delivery and will not be defeated, but they are aggressively looking for new ways to sanitize at least the outside of the mail by using ultraviolet light, the same process often used to sanitize meat and produce.
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