Anthrax scare prompts post office closings in DC area

Nov 7, 2003 (CIDRAP News) – The US Postal Service (USPS) closed 11 post offices and facilities in the Washington, DC, area yesterday after routine air sampling indicated possible anthrax at a mail handling facility at the Anacostia Naval Station in Washington.

"Out of an abundance of caution, the Postal Service has decided to close and test facilities for biohazard contamination," USPS spokesman Azeezaly Jaffer said in a statement yesterday evening.

The Washington Post reported today that further testing by the Army laboratory at Ft. Detrick, Md., also indicated anthrax in a sample from the Anacostia station. But a Navy spokesman said a conclusive finding would not be available for several days, according to the report.

The closed facilities included 10 neighborhood post offices in Washington and neighboring areas of Virginia and Maryland, plus the V Street facility in Washington, which processes government mail, according to the Postal Service.

"Most of this mail moving through the Navy's facility was processed through the Postal Service's V Street facility that processes government mail," Jaffer said. Officials said the Navy facility also receives mail from the other USPS stations that were closed for testing.

The Anacostia mail facility is not staffed or operated by the Postal Service, the USPS said. The facility is a separate building that handles mail sent to the Washington Navy Yard and the Navy annex but does not handle mail for the Pentagon or other government offices, according to the Post report.

The Navy spokesman quoted by the Post, Cmdr. Conrad Chun, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that the five workers who were in the Anacostia facility when sensors detected possible anthrax start taking antibiotics as a precaution. But a USPS news release today said only that the CDC and Washington area health officials were "reviewing the situation to determine the need for any medical intervention for employees" of the closed facilities.

Environmental testing at the closed post offices was expected to be completed today, the Postal Service said. Jaffer said people served by the facilities could expect "minimal delays" in mail delivery. Workers at those stations were asked to report for work at their normal times and were told they would be directed to other work locations.

Local and federal officials said false-positive readings from postal air-monitoring equipment are common, according to the Post story.

Last January, air sampling at the Federal Reserve Bank in Washington indicated possible anthrax, but confirmatory testing of numerous samples from the building found no signs of the bacteria.

See also:

USPS Nov 7 news release
http://www.usps.com/communications/news/welcome.htm

Nov 6 statement by USPS spokesman Jaffer
http://www.usps.com/communications/news/press/2003/pr03_084.txt

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