Postal workers angry over response: Was it because they are Black

By Sinclere Lee

WASHINGTON (BNW) -- It is apparent that the same precautions taken for the workers at the Congress were less than those taken for the postal workers who handled the Congresses’ mail, even though they had direct exposure. The workers, mostly white, who worked for the House and Senate were checked for anthrax immediately while the workers, mostly Black, who worked at the post office were not checked until they started to die. What’s up with that?

You connect the dots!

Angry postal workers said Monday that local and federal authorities were slow to respond to the anthrax threat, even after a contaminated letter was opened in a Senate office last week.

Two Washington postal workers died Monday of what doctors suspect is inhalation anthrax and two other postal workers were diagnosed Sunday and Monday with inhalation anthrax.

All four workers worked at a facility that processed the letter that eventually wound up in the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

Twenty-eight workers on Capitol Hill tested positive for exposure to anthrax last week and were given a course of antibiotics.

"It's like our lives are not as important," said Melvin Thweatt, an employee at the Brentwood facility. He noted that Capitol offices were shut down last week for an environmental sweep of possible anthrax exposure.

"You would think they would have closed this down at the same time at least," Thweatt said. "But they didn't."

The letter to Daschle's office was opened a week ago Monday. Checks of the postal facility did not begin until Friday and checks of workers did not start until Sunday, according to Deborah Willhite, with the U.S. Postal Service.

"We followed the advice of the CDC and other public health officials who advised us that until there was an evidence chain that indicated that there was anthrax present in the facility, that it was not necessary to test our workers," Willhite said.

Asked if federal authorities had dropped the ball, Tom Ridge, director of the Office of Homeland Security, said he did not believe so.

"I think they moved as quickly as they could," Ridge said at a White House press conference Monday. He said investigators were working under the "thesis" that the Daschle letter was the source of contamination among the postal workers.

Thayles Davis, another employee at the Brentwood facility, said postal workers have been supplied with masks and gloves. He said he felt safe but noted he did not work in the building all the time.

"Those who are in there, I'm not sure what extra precautions they're going to take," Davis said.
Health officials Monday stepped up their advisories to postal workers, particularly those who worked in the backroom area of the Brentwood facility and another airmail site near Baltimore Washington International Airport.

"I want to emphasize as strongly as I can: Anyone who was working in that back postal area during the last 11 days, you must, today, immediately come here to D.C. General [Hospital] to receive prophylactic medication and to be evaluated," said Dr. Ivan Walks, the chief health officer for the District of Columbia.

The urgency appeared to stem from the fact the two postal workers who died Monday had not gone to their doctors until just one day earlier, when they reported respiratory problems.

"We don't have a lot of time with inhalation anthrax," warned Surgeon General David Satcher.
Ridge said the two workers deteriorated rapidly. "It is very clear that their symptoms are suspicious, and their deaths are likely due to anthrax," Ridge said.

Authorities said they were checking whether an air pressure machine used to clean mail sorters may have spread anthrax spores.

Postmaster General John Potter said use of that particular type of cleaning machine has been discontinued.

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