This article about anthrax contamination at the Brentwood mail-processing facility in Northeast Washington incorrectly said that Larry Powell was among the workers who took antibiotics in the aftermath. Powell chose not to take the antibiotics.
Postal Workers Go Without Answers
Sunday, August 3, 2008
Like many who worked at the central mail-processing facility on Brentwood Road in Northeast Washington before October 2001, Dena Briscoe said she finds it difficult to enter the hulking red-brick building.
It was there that anthrax contamination killed two employees.
Briscoe, now full-time president of the American Postal Workers Union local that represents employees there, had opted to be reassigned to another facility when Brentwood reopened in 2003, after a major cleanup. The site was renamed in memory of Joseph Curseen Jr., 47, and Thomas Morris Jr., 55. About 1,000 people work at Brentwood today, Briscoe said. Twice as many worked there before the contamination. After the attacks, some workers sought transfers and others retired early. And there were injured workers unable to return. Even the volume of mail was reduced, after government agencies urged people to use e-mails and faxes instead. The lighter load has prompted officials to seek elimination of the overnight shift.
The building is like a ghost town, Briscoe said.
On Friday, former and current employees of the facility learned that Maryland bioweapons expert Bruce E. Ivins, 62, died in an apparent suicide as a federal grand jury was preparing to indict him in connection with attacks that killed five people and, in the aftermath of Sept. 11, further traumatized the nation for months. Supervisors instructed workers not to talk to the media because of the ongoing investigation, and postal security officers ordered reporters off the premises.
The news, Briscoe said, rekindled anger that management has not explained why it allowed the facility to remain open even though it knew about the contamination and why officials did not apologize to employees for possibly putting them at risk. People are upset that the victims did not receive the emotional and financial support given to those who suffered in other national tragedies, she said.
"We've been fighting for information on why [the postal facility] didn't shut down like Capitol Hill," said Briscoe, who also serves as president of a victims organization, Brentwood Exposed.
Luvenia Hyson, spokeswoman for the Brentwood facility, did not return a phone message left at her home yesterday seeking comment.
"The Labor Department set up a center for workman's compensation claims from 9/11. We never had that," Briscoe said. Some claims from the Brentwood contamination "were never approved or dealt with properly."
In October 2001, anthrax-contaminated letters were mailed to then-Sen. Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.), Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), TV network offices in New York and the company that owns the National Enquirer. In addition to the two D.C. postal employees, a New York hospital worker, a Connecticut woman and a Florida photographer died in the attacks.
With the death of a possible suspect, "there are probably more questions now than before," said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, which filed a class-action lawsuit against the postmaster general, alleging that management lied when it assured workers that the facility was safe. The U.S. District Court rejected the workers' request for compensation, saying they could pursue other remedies. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
"If this was the guy, why wasn't he in custody?" Fitton asked. "Why did it take so long" to find him? And "why didn't they pick up the guy sooner to prevent him from" committing suicide?