Postal workers sue over anthrax exposure

A group of Washington-area Postal Service employees who claim they were deliberately left in harm's way during the 2001 anthrax attacks plan to file a class action suit Wednesday against the agency.

Brentwood Exposed, a group professing to represent hundreds of current and former postal workers, allege that Postmaster General John Potter and other agency leaders violated the employees' Fifth Amendment rights by withholding information relating to contamination at the Joseph Curseen Jr. and Thomas Morris Jr. Processing and Distribution Center, formerly known as the Brentwood Mail Processing and Distribution Center. The facility was renamed to honor two workers who died as a result of the anthrax attacks.

The group's organizers declined to comment for this story, but have scheduled a news conference for Wednesday at the National Press Club in downtown Washington. Lawyers from Judicial Watch, a Washington-based government watchdog organization representing Brentwood Exposed, did not return phone calls.

Sources familiar with the litigation, however, said the group would rely on copies of a personal log kept by Timothy Haney, manager of the plant, that it obtained through the 1974 Freedom of Information Act. One entry, they said, suggests that Haney and other postal executives knew the Brentwood facility was contaminated several days before they decided to close it down.

Postal executives have said they took their cues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It wasn't until the CDC confirmed contamination that the facility was shut down. Postal Service officials did not return calls for this story.

Members of Brentwood Exposed note that Senate office buildings were closed immediately after an anthrax-tainted letter was opened in the office of Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D. The suit is similar to one filed by former Brentwood worker Leroy Richmond. Along with Curseen and Morris, Richmond was among the first employees to show signs of anthrax exposure, including a high fever, headaches and tightness in the chest. Richmond's health problems persist. He hasn't been back to work since October 2001.

"He's losing the experience of being able to be active with his [9-year old] son," said Gregory Lattimer, Richmond's attorney. Lattimer charges that the agency acted with"deliberate indifference" by not moving quickly to safeguard employees. Richmond is seeking millions in damages. A trial date has not yet been set.

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