|Maryland Post Office Gets
Mail, After Anthrax Closes Facility in Washington
By Marie Beaudette
Capital News Service
Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2001
WASHINGTON - Mail from Washington is being rerouted to two Maryland postal
processing facilities after the deaths of two workers from what appears to
be anthrax closed the District's Brentwood postal station.
Officials said appropriate precautions are being taken at the Gaithersburg
and Capitol Heights facilities, which distribute mail through Montgomery
County and most of Southern Maryland.
But federal health officials also conceded Tuesday that the pattern of
infection in the Washington cases has sparked concern that anthrax spores
can be spread easier than was earlier thought.
It came as the Postal Service closed the airmail facility at
Baltimore/Washington International Airport and ordered employees there to
undergo anthrax testing and get antibiotics as a preventive measure. One of
the Brentwood employees also worked at BWI last week.
Two postal employees at the Brentwood Processing and Distribution Center,
the mail hub of the District, died this week from what officials said was
probably anthrax. Two others who work at the facility have been diagnosed
with the often-deadly inhalation form of anthrax.
The Brentwood facility likely handled anthrax-tainted mail that was sent to
the Senate last week, exposing dozens of people when the letter was opened
and the spores released into the air. But there is no evidence that the
Senate letter was opened when it went through Brentwood.
That raised fears at the Postal Service, where Postmaster General John
Potter said Tuesday that officials were told that a sealed envelope could
not transmit or release anthrax. A spokesman for the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention conceded that the Brentwood anthrax cases are "a
Postal workers in New Jersey -- where anthrax-tainted letters were handled
on their way to New York -- have also tested positive for exposure to the
"At first, we had no evidence that any of the mail handlers were at
risk, so this phenomenon of first having skin disease in New Jersey and now
having inhalational disease (in Brentwood) is an evolution," said CDC
spokesman Mitch Cohen at a Tuesday news conference with Potter and Homeland
Defense Secretary Tom Ridge. "How it is actually occurring isn't
The Suburban Maryland Processing and Distribution Center in Gaithersburg is
located in the district of Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda. A Morella
spokesman said the Postal Service was taking appropriate precautions and the
threat of anthrax is minimal.
"At this point it appears to be very remote," said spokesman
Jonathan Dean. "Obviously investigations are continuing, and these
investigations will determine the level of threat."
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, -- whose district is served by the
Southern Maryland Processing and Distribution Center in Capitol Heights --
said everyone involved needs to work together to ensure the safety of postal
workers and the general public. "We should take all possible
precautions," he said.
Workers at the Brentwood facility were being tested on Monday and Tuesday.
On Monday, more than 2,000 workers were given antibiotics while waiting on
The decision to close the BWI facility was made after one of the victims
recalled something suspicious happening there, but Potter now says it is
likely that the worker had been exposed at Brentwood.
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