USPS under fire for reaction to ricin threat

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Postal Service is facing heavy criticism for its handling of the ricin-letter scare.

A union representing postal workers says the potentially deadly situation wasn’t taken seriously enough.

The American Postal Workers Union says they were not immediately alerted about the possible presence of ricin in mail, and had to rely on news reports for information about a suspicious letter sent to Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker.

APWU President Cliff Guffey received official word from the Postal Service hours after the news broke. He says at that time, the Postal Service also included a copy of a message management would be delivering to workers, Guffey says.

Guffey is concerned that as a result, some workers were not immediately and fully informed of a major safety issue.

In an email to WTOP, the Postal Service says that starting Tuesday evening, workers were gathered together to hear management deliver remarks about the incident. It’s not clear how many facilities were included in the talks.

According to APWU, the message from the Postal Service to its workers included warnings about ricin exposure.

“We have no reason to believe that any Postal employees are at risk from handling the suspect letter as it passed through the mail stream from Memphis, Tenn., to Washington, D.C. If anyone were to inhale a quantity of ricin large enough to produce medical symptoms, they most likely would include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing and would appear within 24 hours. If you have not experienced such symptoms recently, you should not be concerned. If you have, we urge you to let your supervisor know and see your physician promptly for an evaluation,” according to the information the union posted its website from the Postal Service.

USPS tells WTOP the poisoned letter would have gone through a processing center on V Street in D.C., as well as the facility in Prince George’s County where the letter was flagged as potentially dangerous.

Postal officials say that bio-detection systems are in place throughout the country and are used daily to scan mail. They also say specific protocols are in place for an incident involving a potentially contaminated latter, which include isolating the letter, notifying management, and alerting investigators.

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