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The Daily Tar Heel

Union Workers Hope to Close Postal Facility

The Local 1078 of the American Postal Workers Union is requesting a temporary restraining order to close down the Westgate Road postal service processing and distribution center.

The presence of anthrax was announced Thursday night after it was discovered on a shrink-wrapped pallet of stamps in a sample taken by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

N.C. officials said the amount discovered is medically insignificant and that it is safe for the postal facility to remain open.

Raiko Hill, a postal clerk at the Westgate facility, said postal officials closed the Accountable Papers Section of the post office, which is where the anthrax was discovered. She added that decontamination began without shutting down the facility.

But Ajamu Dillahunt, president of Local 1078, said he thinks the anthrax discovery has been handled poorly. "We feel like they should shut the plant down and test other areas," he said.

But N.C. health officials said the presence of anthrax in the postal facility is medically insignificant and has been contained to the region where it was found.

Debbie Crane, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said the plant was not shut down because there is no medical concern.

She said the quantity of anthrax found was very small and was found in a locked vault, adding that people with access to that location would have shown symptoms by now.

But Dillahunt said the contaminated pallet had been moved through areas where more people could have been exposed.

"They should call down the entire operation until they test the entire area," he said. "(Saturday) there was some additional testing done in the pathway of the mail because of pressure. Decontamination of the area has ended, but further test results have not come back yet."

Crane said the U.S. Postal Service is in its second tier of a testing process and that there have been 275 tests along the East Coast. The first tier tested postal facilities in Washington, D.C., and New Jersey.

The study is being done to determine how far anthrax might have spread from main facilities in Washington and New Jersey. "This is purely an environmental issue, not a health issue," she said.

Despite reassurances from health officials and management, some workers say they still feel threatened.

"All along we knew we were at risk, but they promised us that they would close the facilities down (if they found anthrax), which they did not do," Hill said.

Julio Colon, another worker at the facility, said he thinks the post office officials are dealing with the current situation poorly. He emphasized that the post office will not pay for employees to be tested for anthrax.

"They did not give us the opportunity to be tested," he said. "We are going to the union to get a petition to close the building."

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