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Postal Service to offer Cipro to Manhattan postal workers

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Postal authorities plan to offer the antibiotic Cipro to about 7,000 postal workers in six Manhattan facilities that might have handled anthrax-laced mail, postal officials said Tuesday.

The plan results from a meeting between postal officials, a representative of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and angry postal union leaders.

Union officials said postal authorities have offered testing for anthrax to some workers in the six facilities. Efforts to confirm this with postal authorities were not immediately successful.

Postal officials said distribution of Cipro to workers in the six facilities who want it will begin "as soon as possible," but they did not specify a date. Pregnant women and workers with medical issues, such as an allergy to Cipro, will be offered alternative medication, the statement said.

The plan was "purely a precautionary move," CDC epidemiologist Dr. Steven Ostroff was quoted in the Postal Service statement as saying. Ostroff said he was aware of no New York postal workers reporting anthrax symptoms.

The antibiotic will be offered to workers at the James A. Farley Post Office, which is the main post office in New York; the Morgan Mail Processing & Distribution Center nearby; and post offices at Ansonia station, Times Square, Radio City and Rockefeller Center.

Union officials expressed relief that Cipro would be made available. But they also expressed frustration, saying that postal officials put workers at risk by failing to test workers and facilities earlier and by refusing to take greater precautions going forward.

"They complain about spending money on respirator masks, gloves to protect the workers and equipment to vacuum out the machines," William Smith, president of the New York Metro Area Postal Workers Union, told CNN in an interview. "The postal workers are nervous. They're concerned. They have to be concerned because we have two postal workers dead."

Union leaders had demanded the meeting Tuesday, saying postal officials were not doing enough to protect workers.

"They don't have a plan, which is very scary, or they do have a plan, and they're just not telling us," Louie Nikolaidis, a lawyer for the New York Metro Area Postal Workers Union, said immediately after the meeting. "The CDC told us they don't have a plan, and it's not their responsibility."

A spokesman for the CDC in New York declined to comment.

Sixty postal workers at the Morgan Parcel Distribution Center and 45 at the Rockefeller Carrier Station have already been tested, Nikolaidis said.

Some union leaders were not satisfied with the random testing plan.

"Doing random testing -- someone could fall through the cracks," Smith told CNN. He alleged that postal officials refused to test all workers at the six facilities "because they don't want to spend the money."

Nikolaidis complained that government workers in Washington were tested ahead of postal employees. "Maybe they were more important people than postal workers," he said.

However, Larry Adams, president of Mail Handlers Local 300, said he was satisfied with the Postal Service's plan to test only some workers, saying testing would become moot after workers start taking Cipro.

Union officials were in agreement, however, that postal officials had taken too long to start testing workers. Authorities knew as early as October 12 that workers might have been exposed, but testing started only two days ago, Smith said.

Postal officials said in their statement, however, that "the situation in New York is different" from New Jersey and Washington, because no postal workers in the city have reported anthrax symptoms.

In the statement, Postal Service Vice President David Solomon "urged everyone to trust health officials, and to rely on facts, not opinions or suppositions."

He said the Postal Service delivers 680 million pieces of mail nationwide per day.


• U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
• U.S. Public Health Service
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
• Federal Bureau of Investigation
• U.S. Attorney General

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