Monday, May 19, 2003

The Ghosts of Brentwood:Despite Anthrax Tests, Workers Debate Returning

One day last week, John H.Bridges III, the U.S. Postal Service's on-scene incident commander, opened a black rubber door -- ignoring a white piece of paper with "Exclusion Zone" printed in bold, black letters -- and stepped onto the work floor of a building once so contaminated with anthrax that even the rats inside were treated as hazardous material.
Interesting article on preparations for re-opening the anthrax-contaminated Brentwood Post Office building.
The American Postal Workers Union, which represents the postal workers now inside, took a neutral approach, advising members that reentering the building without protective gear was strictly voluntary. "I wouldn't make any assumptions on the final clearance of the facility," said Corey Thompson, safety and health specialist for the union.

Thompson said such a clearance needs to come from the Environmental Clearance Committee, an independent group of 15 academic, government and private-sector experts that was formed to evaluate the fumigation's effectiveness. It is chaired by the D.C. Department of Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The committee issued an interim statement in March that the technical requirements for a successful fumigation were met and that all samples were negative for anthrax. But it stopped short of endorsing reoccupancy. The findings "should not be interpreted as a recommendation" that the facility is safe for reuse, the statement read. The committee said it wanted to review more fumigation data and sampling results. There has been ongoing air sampling during the renovation.
Some workers are wary of the Postal Service's assurances that the facility is safe and given the past history, it's hard to blame them. Some have retired and others have transferred to other locations.
Those not coming back cite lingering doubts about the success of the fumigation process. The place still evokes grim memories for many, and Joan Bell[who sorted mail on Machine 17 and retired in August after a 35-year postal career] said she avoids even driving by. A powdery ghost infected the machines they staffed, killed two of their colleagues and cast a cloud of uncertainty over their health and faith in management, which many said lingers to this day.