WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Thursday called the postal service’s handling of three alleged incidents of potentially hazardous mail at a Hartford postal facility “deeply troubling” and requested a full accounting of measures taken to prevent a recurrence.
In a letter to Postmaster General John Potter, dated April 3, 2003, Lieberman expressed consternation that two incidents involving suspicious mail at the Hartford Processing and Distribution Center reportedly occurred after he had written the Postal Service about the first incident and was reassured proper precautions had been put in place.
“It is outrageous if established protocols are still being ignored over a year after anthrax attacks sent shock waves through the postal system and resulted in the deaths of two Postal Service employees,” Lieberman said. “It is unacceptable to continue to endanger postal workers in this way.”
The American Postal Workers Union contacted Lieberman after the first incident, which occurred November 17, 2002, when an envelope inscribed with the words “to anyone who wants anthrax have a nice day,” was carried from one end of the facility to another. A second incident involving a suspicious holiday card occurred one month later on December 17, 2002, the same day Potter acknowledged in a letter to Lieberman that proper procedures had not been followed in the first incident. In his letter, he assured Lieberman that “managers, supervisors and employees have received awareness training on the procedures, as well as formal training in emergency action plans, hazardous materials first responder procedures…and continually of operations plans.”
Yet, in the second incident, according to information received by Lieberman from the APWU, supervisors called a non-emergency fire department number instead of a team experienced in dealing with hazardous materials, resulting in a two and a half hour delay before the appropriate responders arrived. The APWU informed Lieberman of a third incident on January 18, 2003. Lieberman was told that a postal clerk spilled powder from a suspicious piece of mail on herself and was instructed to walk 500 feet through a large part of the facility to the safety office.
“The presence of hazardous substances at postal facilities is not a hypothetical,” Lieberman said. “The lives of too many employees and too many mail recipients are at stake for there to be a sloppy response to these types of incidents.”