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Area post offices work to protect employees, public

| Saturday, Nov. 3, 2001

In light of the recent anthrax scares using the United States Postal Service (USPS), local post offices are doing their part to protect employees and the public.

Although there have been no credible threats at any branches in western Pennsylvania, local offices are doing what they can to prevent such an occurrence.

Tad Kelley, a media relations representative with the USPS in Pittsburgh, announced that the recent threat of anthrax is not hindering operations of the USPS and there are no restrictions or delays of the mail. The postal service is implementing a variety of measures to combat the threat of anthrax-infected mail including using the latest technology and educating workers and the public on common sense prevention.

Along with local offices in Connellsville, Mount Pleasant, Scottdale and the surrounding area, offices around the country have been offered various types of employee protective equipment by the USPS to ensure the safety of their employees, reports Kelley. All safety measures available to employees are not mandatory but strongly encouraged.

The postal service has acquired specialized plastic gloves to distribute to employees which will protect their skin. The gloves are made of a vinyl and Nitrile (a high-grade industrial plastic).

According to Kelley, the postal service decided to use these gloves, which were recommended by the National Center for Disease Control, instead of latex gloves, because latex gloves can leave a powdery residue which could easily be mistaken by an employee as a suspicious substance.

Employees have also been offered doctor-style surgical masks that have the capability to filter out 95 percent of all microbes in the air, including anthrax spores.

Prior to the anthrax threat, the USPS cleaned mail with the use of a forced-air system, which blew dirt and particles off the mail, but has recently started using a state-of-the-art vacuuming system to sanitize the mail.

The postal service is also investigating the possibility of purchasing sanitation equipment that will kill biological agents inside and outside of the mail without damaging sensitive materials like videotapes and magnetic strips on credit cards. The technology for such a system already exists and is used by the food and medical services industry, stated Kelley.

These types of systems will generally be used in the larger main branches and won't affect processes at local branches.

In addition to using the latest in available technology, the USPS has also been holding daily briefings for employees, reminding them to be vigilant when working with the mail. Kelley said these meetings instruct employees on what to look for and what to do if they find something.

If a suspicious substance is found, the postal service will first attempt to contact the sender or recipient to determine what the substance might be. If it is still suspicious or if the postal service can't contact the sender or recipient, the mail will be isolated and the proper authorities called.

To help employees, the postal service has also produced a video airing on USPS TV featuring union officials discussing the steps being taken to protect employees and the public.

On the local level, each postal district is setting up informational phone lines for employees with concerns. The phone numbers will be published in employee publications once established.

According to Kelley, employees are responding in a very positive way to the changes the postal service has implemented.

"It's important to them. They don't want these terrorists to take down the industry that they have spent time building up," said Kelley.

Educating the public in common sense preventive measures has become one of the postal service's main objectives, explained Kelley.

The USPS has arranged the delivery of 145 million postcards giving the public instructions on how to handle suspicious mail. A copy of the postcard can also be viewed by the public by logging on to the postal service's Web site at www.usps.com.

The postcards advise the public to be cautious when opening the mail, but not to panic.

"There is nothing wrong with concern," stated Kelley.

He also commented that the first sign something may not be right is the return address. If there isn't an address, the recipient doesn't recognize the address or the recipient isn't expecting something from that address, the mail may be suspicious.

Also the public is encouraged to question mail that has an excessive amount of postage on it.

Most importantly, Kelley said anyone receiving a letter or package that is leaking a liquid or powder should put the mail down immediately, wash their hands and contact local authorities.

With Christmas just around the corner, it is not yet known what effect the threat of anthrax will have on the amount of cards and gifts sent through the mail, but Kelley hopes that Americans will do as they always have done.

"We have no clear indication about what people will do, but we hope they will continue to send things through the mail. Especially at this time with what our nation is going through, I think it's a great idea to continue doing that," said Kelley.

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