Kicked out of his office so it can be fumigated to kill any anthrax spores that might be lingering, it's not hard for U.S. Sen. George Voinovich (R., Ohio) to empathize with postal workers who are concerned the bioterror threat might show up in Toledo.
Mr. Voinovich visited the main Toledo Post Office, 435 South St. Clair St., yesterday to talk to workers and managers about their concerns and to let them know he supports measures that can be implemented to protect them.
The senator knows all about anthrax scares because his offices in the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington were closed after a letter containing anthrax was sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D., S.D.).
Mr. Voinovich said he is displeased by the misinformation that was given in the wake of that letter. Initially, he was told he had nothing to worry about, but then it was revealed that the anthrax spores were the type that could travel through air.
“I was angry, and I'm sure many of the people at the post office were angry about the way this thing was handled,” Mr. Voinovich said.
He said he expects to be allowed back in the Hart Building, which is being fumigated with chlorine dioxide, in about two weeks. Staffers are using Sen. Mike DeWine's (R., Ohio) office space in the meantime.
Mr. Voinovich said postal workers are ``on the front lines” and are to be commended for how they've handled the anthrax threat. So far, two of the four people who have died after coming into contact with anthrax were postal carriers. In addition to spores found at a Washington-area post office, trace amounts of spores were discovered at post offices in Indianapolis and Kansas City, Mo.
Workers at the Toledo post office said they appreciate the senator's visit, but it did little to alleviate their worries.
Barb Carper, a clerk who handles mail, said she's concerned as are many of her colleagues, and are trying not to get too worked up by the steady barrage of anthrax stories in the news.
“I think in the back of everybody's mind is whether this will be the day that it winds up in this area. Is this the day that contaminated mail will arrive to us,” Ms. Carper said.
She said she does not think postal workers were given enough information when the first anthrax-contaminated letters were delivered. “That's made me mad,” she said. “It was like we're expendable because we're blue-collar workers. We're not big shots. But whether you're a senator or a postal worker, it should be the same.”
Postal workers such as Ms. Carper have reasons to be on edge: The main post office has been evacuated twice, but were both false alarms, said Craig Cummings, a spokesman for the local U.S. Postal Service. He said the evacuations have not delayed the mail's delivery.
Kenny Terry, president of American Postal Workers Union Local 170, said management and workers have made a cooperative effort to keep the workplace as safe as possible. He said the 700 union members, who process the mail, want to be sure safety measures established at the national level are followed locally.