WASHINGTON – At the request of worried postal workers, Senator Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., has asked for an investigation into the clean-up of anthrax contamination at the Southern Connecticut Processing and Distribution Center in Wallingford.
In a letter to the General Accounting Office, the investigatory arm of Congress, Lieberman expressed concern that public health officials may have failed to communicate to postal workers all available information about the level of contamination discovered at the facility last December.
“The investigation… would serve two purposes,” Lieberman wrote. “First, it would disclose who knew what, when they knew it, and whether this information was properly disclosed to the employees.
“Second, it could serve to establish a process or set of standards for agencies to follow” in the future.”
After the death of Ottilie Lundgren of Oxford , investigators traced her mail to the Wallingford facility, where four sorting machines tested positive for anthrax contamination Dec. 2, 2001 . State and local public health officials described the contamination as “trace amounts”at the time and said it posed no health risk.
Three months later, Dr. James Hadler, of the Connecticut Public Health Department, was quoted in the media saying that one of the sorting machines had three million spores of anthrax on it one month after the contaminated mail is thought to have passed through it.
The American Postal Workers Union has said that it relied upon the original description of “trace amounts” to advise members on the continuation of their medicine, whether to resume work in Wallingford or request a transfer, and whether to work in the vicinity of the sorting machines while the decontamination process was occurring.
The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee held two hearings last fall on anthrax attacks through the mail.
“These are legitimate concerns and I think we need to put to rest the suggestion that postal workers were kept in the dark,” Lieberman said. “We need to be sure that these matters are handled responsibly and professionally, with full consideration for the health and safety of postal workers.”