MAIL ROOMS PREPARED ONE YEAR AFTER ANTHRAX ATTACK



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Last Updated

25 Oct 2002

Source:  Pentagram (Wash. D.C. military), October 25, 2002.

Mail rooms prepared one year after anthrax attack

by Spc. Jennifer Stutsman, Pentagram staff writer

Since last October's anthrax scare mailrooms in the area have taken extra precautionary measures to ensure the safety of employees and mail recipients.

"Once it became known Brentwood [Postal Facility] was decontaminated we immediately put bio sampling into play," said Larry Cerruti, chief of anti-terrorism force protection branch.

Cerruti and team ordered Dry Filter Unit testing to be used in the Military District of Washington mailrooms.

Postal officials implemented new operating procedures almost immediately following the Brentwood decontamination. The new procedure explained how to use the filter units and what to do if a positive result is found.

"[The filter] is like a large vacuum cleaner with a motor in a box that draws air over the filter," said Cerruti of the test kits that arrived in January. "It's quiet and powerful."

In January all mail clerks, their alternates and their supervisors were given a class hosted by the Program Executive Office for Chem/Bio Defense, the contractor who supplied the units.

Cerruti explains the tests are run for eight hours. When the time is up, a mail clerk will remove the filter and use a hand held assay to test the biological particles in the air. The clerk will shake up the test, put drops in the panels and wait 15 minutes for results.

"[The kit's] read like a home pregnancy test," said Cerruti. "It gives a plus or minus."

The kit tests for the eight different hazardous particles most likely to be used as a biological weapon, including anthrax.

If any of the test panels come out positive, the employee immediately calls the emergency contact on duty to get confirmation as to what hazard the test has found. The clerk then performs two more tests to confirm the results.

If following tests are positive, Walter Reed Army Medical Center is contacted as well as a Hazardous Material team and the FBI.

Cerruti said there are currently six mailrooms in the Military District of Washington using the Dry Filter Units.

These are mailrooms receiving mail from outside sources. Cerruti said he plans to expand the number of mailrooms with the units.

The new mailroom procedures include cleaning techniques. Cerruti said the mail clerks clean the mailroom a couple times a day with .05 bleach to keep the units from reporting strains of particles that aren't present.

"We detect and treat," said Cerruti. "There is currently no readily available system at a reasonable cost to detect [hazardous particles] fast enough to allow you to escape."

The filter units cost $33 a day per mailroom, that's between $8,000 and $10,000 a year depending on the number of tests run a day.

"[The Dry Filter Unit] is the singular most economically accurate and believable system we can get," Cerruti added.

"It gives the employees that little bit of a leg up on self insurance."

The chief concluded with a confident "It's a trustable system and it will work."