Postal workers find themselves in bio-war front line

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The Independent US

Federal investigators descended in force on the main post office for Trenton, the capital of New Jersey. Two letters containing anthrax, sent to Tom Brokaw at NBC News and Tom Daschle, the US Senate leader, bore Trenton postmarks. A letter that arrived at a Microsoft office in Nevada last week bore a Malaysian postmark.

Meanwhile workers in post offices and mailrooms across the US were expressing anxiety about handling letters and packages as the anthrax scare continued to intensify.

The US Postal Service said it was taking new steps to heighten security and reassure its 800,000 postal employees. The measures include making two videos for its workers instructing them on handling safety. It also said it would reduce its use of commercial aircraft to move mail.

"There is a lot of fear out there," commented Patrick Donahue, chief operating officer of the postal service. "We want to encourage our employees to stay vigilant, everywhere in the system." The service moves some 680 million pieces of mail every day.

As part of the Trenton probe, investigators scanned surveillance videotapes and interviewed workers at the huge facility. The centre, just outside the city in Hamilton Township, handles mail from 46 smaller post offices around the area. "It's difficult, but it's not impossible," remarked Lori Groen, a postal inspector.

Two Trenton employees were being tested for anthrax yesterday after complaining of flu-like symptoms.

Postal workers at the Rockefeller Centre in New York, where NBC is headquartered, have complained that they are not getting adequate instructions on how to protect themselves. "They are really upset and they are not in a good mood," said William Smith, an official with the New York Metro Area Postal Union.