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More anthrax suits coming against Postal Service

At least two New Jersey Postal Service employees plan to sue the agency for allegedly failing to protect workers from exposure to anthrax. Their suit, which will likely be filed in a federal court in New Jersey during the next few weeks, comes on the heels of a suit filed Jan. 7 by a Washington postal employee.

Employees at mail processing plants in Washington and Hamilton, N.J., were exposed to anthrax in October 2001 after a series of anthrax-laced letters were dropped in the mail system. Two postal workers at the Washington plant died from exposure. Several others at both facilities became ill.

Leroy Richmond, who contracted inhalation anthrax at the Washington facility, is suing Postmaster General John Potter and two other managers for $100 million. His suit claims that managers acted with "deliberate indifference" by not moving quickly to safeguard employees. His attorney, Gregory Lattimer, said the agency waited "until they had two dead bodies" before closing the facility.

Postal Service spokesman Gerald McKiernan said he could not comment on pending litigation.

Richmond's suit has been referred to the Justice Department, which handles federal tort cases.

The lawsuit in New Jersey will also argue that the agency was slow to protect workers, said Lattimer, who is also representing the New Jersey workers. He said they exhibit the same symptoms as Richmond-shortness of breath, headaches and memory loss. All three workers are currently receiving workers compensation benefits.

During the initial days after the anthrax attack, Postal Service officials continually said that they were relying on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for guidance. At that time, health officials believed most postal employees were not at risk from anthrax spores because the spores were contained in sealed letters. Potter was so confident workers were safe that held a press conference inside the Washington facility only a few days after the first anthrax-tainted letter was opened in the office of Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

Shortly after that, it became clear that even unopened letters put postal workers at risk of inhalation anthrax, and the facility was closed. The New Jersey plant was shut down after an anthrax letter was sent to NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw.

Lattimer claimed that federal officials responded more quickly to protect workers on Capitol Hill and at NBC than in the postal processing plants.