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Last Updated

15 Dec 2002

Source: Hartford Courant, May 1, 2002.

Anthrax To Shut Postal Station

New Cleanup Set For Wallingford Site

By DAVE ALTIMARI, Courant Staff Writer

The postal service's regional mail facility in Wallingford will be virtually shut down for two months, while technicians decontaminate letter-sorting machines where more anthrax was recently found.

After weekend meetings with federal authorities from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, postal officials told employees that only a quarter of the 350,000-square-foot building will remain open.

The decontamination will begin this weekend. Special tents will be built over at least six of the sorting machines, and then a bleach mist will be piped inside to kill the anthrax spores. After the cleaning is completed, health officials will conduct another round of tests.

Postal officials said Tuesday the rerouting of mail while the decontamination proceeds shouldn't interrupt delivery services.

"Other facilities will pick up the workload and customers shouldn't see any noticeable impact on the delivery of their mail," said Debra Hawkins, the manager of public affairs for the postal service in Connecticut.

Hawkins said it's unclear how long the facility will be partially closed, but employees said they were told Monday night and Tuesday to expect the process to take six to eight weeks.

Three out of 103 samples taken from the Southern Connecticut Processing and Distribution Center on Research Road tested positive for anthrax more than six months after anthrax-tainted mail passed through them. The mail is believed to have been cross-contaminated by letters sent from New Jersey to Sens. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt.

The new tests, conducted in recent weeks, found anthrax near three of the sorting machines that tested positive last fall. Those same machines handled the mail belonging to 94-year-old Ottilie Lundgren (case 23) of Oxford, who died of inhalation anthrax in November.

Investigators believe she contracted the deadly pathogen through a piece of cross-contaminated mail.

Postal employees will be transferred to one of three offices in Hartford, New Haven or Stamford, depending on which sorting machines they work on. About 1,100 people work at the Wallingford facility. Hawkins did not know what percentage of them will be moved elsewhere.

The only section of the building that will remain open handles small parcels. Mail that comes through the Wallingford facility goes to New London, New Haven, Middlesex counties and portions of Fairfield County.

Some employees have not been to work since last Friday, when the Department of Public Health announced the test results. Others are angry they will have to drive far away from home.

"Our whole issue is if people don't want to be there they don't have to be," said John Dirzius, president of the American Postal Workers Union Greater Connecticut Local.

Dirzius said many employees are more upset about learning only recently that more than three million anthrax spores were found under one of the sorting machines last fall while they were still working on them.

Postal officials have insisted that the three million figure still amounts to only a trace of anthrax and no one has gotten sick here in Connecticut. But Dirzius said that's a small consolation.

"I don't know if we were playing Russian roulette and got lucky no one got sick," Dirzius said. "I don't want a repeat of last fall when people were in the building while they were trying to clean up three million spores."

Elsewhere, two other post office buildings have been closed for thorough cleanings: the Brentwood facility in Washington, D.C., and the Hamilton Township facility just outside Trenton, N.J. The letters to Daschle and Leahy, containing billions of spores of anthrax, passed through both facilities.

Both of them are being fumigated with gas, just as the Hart Senate Building in Washington was earlier this year.