Postal officials discuss biohazard threat

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A new biohazard detection system at the city's mail processing center will protect employees and customers from an anthrax attack like the ones that shook the nation soon after Sept. 11, 2001, postal officials said Monday.

The system, to be installed Jan. 22, is the 83rd of 107 the U.S. Postal Service plans to install across the nation in the first phase of its deployment plan. Eventually, every postal facility that handles outgoing mail will have the equipment, officials said.

Postal Service district manager Ormer Rogers Jr. said if such a system had been in place nationwide four years ago, the anthrax-by-mail attacks that killed five people, including two postal workers, soon after Sept. 11 would have been stifled early.

"Within 90 minutes, every piece of mail that would have gone through would have been stopped," Rogers said Monday. "The two (postal workers) infected would probably be alive today. They didn't even realize they were contaminated until later."

The Kansas City facility handles about 7 million pieces of mail a day, but the detection system will only be used for the roughly 800,000 to 900,000 pieces of outgoing mail the processing center handles each day.

Development of the equipment began after the anthrax attacks, which came on Sept. 18, 2001, a week after terror attacks leveled the World Trade Center. The FBI believes the anthrax-tainted letters were acts of domestic terrorism and not directly linked to the Sept. 11 attacks.

While the anthrax letters and resulting deaths all were confined to the eastern part of the country, the crisis spread to the Midwest weeks later.

On Halloween night, officials announced that anthrax spores had been found in a Kansas City postal facility on two samples taken from a trash bag that contained discarded envelopes from a contaminated Washington, D.C., postal center.

The Stamp Fulfillment Services Center, which cancels newly issued stamps for stamp collectors, was closed for about two weeks while health officials conducted tests on the underground facility. None of the roughly 200 Kansas City postal workers in the center became ill.

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