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N.Y. postal union wants tainted facilities closed

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The New York metro postal union asked a federal court Monday to force the U.S. Postal Service to "shut down the facilities that test positive for anthrax."

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Read the lawsuit: Smith v. Potter (October 29, 2001) FindLaw (PDF)
 

A lawsuit filed Monday afternoon asked the court to "enjoin the USPS from operating any mail facility that has been found to contain anthrax spores, including but not limited to the Morgan General Mail Facility, until such time as the facility has been conclusively determined to be free of anthrax."

The union also wants the court to require anthrax testing of all facilities that have received mail that went through Morgan, "including but not limited to all mail facilities in Manhattan and the Bronx."

Anthrax was found on four delivery bar code sorting machines in the Morgan Mail Processing and Distribution Center last week.

In Miami, the local postal union representing postal workers filed a similar lawsuit Monday, demanding the testing of all employees at facilities that might have been contaminated by anthrax and for the buildings to be closed until they can be screened for anthrax.

The New York union filed a "notice of intent to sue" Friday afternoon with U.S. Postmaster General John Potter. Union attorney Louie Nikolaidis said Friday he would proceed with a lawsuit if Morgan remained open.

The Morgan facility is open while decontamination is being done on two floors. Only a 150,000 square foot area has been closed off around where anthrax bacteria colonies were found on four sorting machines.

Postal Service Area Vice President David Solomon said the agency is acting on advice from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The Postal Service is not a medical organization," Solomon said. "We rely on health officials. Whatever they tell us to do, we will do."

The Postal Service also announced Monday that 30 mail facilities in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware would be tested for anthrax and the testing may be extended to 200 other facilities.

Dennis O'Neil, who works in the Morgan facility, told reporters after the suit was filed that he is "scared and angry" about the anthrax threat. He is named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit along with William M. Smith, local union president.

Nikolaidis said he does not want to go to court but would rather the Postal Service take action on its own and shut down the Morgan facility. The union wants all 5,000 employees kept out until the entire building is tested.

Nikolaidis said he believes the Morgan facility could be shut down with only "minor mail disruption," with mail re-routed to other distribution centers in New Jersey.

He also said the CDC and the Postal Service were "behind the eight ball" in dealing with the anthrax threat.

An independent environmental contractor licensed to handle biochemical agents is handling the decontamination of the Morgan facility.

Cleanup starts with vacuuming of the infected machines, using special filters to prevent any spores from spreading in the air.

Next, a bleach solution will be applied to the entire third floor, where the anthrax was found. Solomon said the second floor will also be treated as a precaution, although no anthrax was found there.

"If there is any danger to any postal employee we will shut [Morgan] down," Solomon said. Attendance has been only 70 percent at Morgan since anthrax was discovered there, he said.

Federal Judge John F. Keenan of the Southern District of New York will hear the case.



 
 
 
 



RELATED SITES:
• U.S. Postal Service
• 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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