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Union: Postal workers can boycott anthrax sites

CROOM, Maryland (CNN) -- Members of the American Postal Workers Union won't work in any postal facility that isn't completely clear of anthrax or any other form of contamination, the newly installed union president said Thursday.

William Burrus, who stepped up as union president November 10, objected to the U.S. Postal Service's policy of closing only a contaminated section of a facility that tests positive for anthrax. Authorities don't know enough, he said, about how much contamination is too much.

"The medical community isn't clear at this point what level of contamination could cause serious injury or death," Burrus told CNN from his home in suburban Maryland. "I'm unwilling for the employees to be used as guinea pigs."

Representatives of the Postal Service were not immediately available for comment.

Last month, the service agreed to close down facilities where anthrax is found, but recently said they would close only the sections of a facility that test positive for the potentially deadly bacteria at the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

APWU members cannot strike, but Burrus said the union would back any employee who felt his or her safety was jeopardized and refused to enter a contaminated facility.

Burrus also said postal workers were being used as test subjects on the side effects of the antibiotic Cipro, used against anthrax contamination for both those who have been exposed and those who may have been exposed.

"It has become a condition of employment," he said. "The option is, you take Cipro or we believe you might die. That's not much choice. I would much rather the employees vacate the building than take Cipro."

Burrus noted that if 1 percent of the 20,000 postal workers now taking Cipro as a preventative died, the number would be "a lot more than the deaths we've had so far."

Two APWU members -- both employees of Washington's Brentwood distribution center -- have died of inhalation anthrax, and several others have been hospitalized with either that form of the disease or the less serious cutaneous (skin) variety. Three other people -- a tabloid photo editor in Florida, a hospital stockroom employee in New York and a 94-year-old Connecticut woman -- have died of inhalation anthrax.

The Connecticut case has baffled investigators who are trying to learn how Ottilie Lundgren, who rarely left her home, could have contracted the bacteria.

Despite the novelty of that case, Burrus said he does not believe the American public is at risk.

"I don't at this point feel the general public is in danger," he said. "I would defer to the medical community ... but we handle 680 million pieces of mail a day and we've had limited public exposure."



 
 
 
 


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