Postal Service reopens Washington facility; tests for anthrax negative

The Postal Service reopened a government mail processing facility in Washington Wednesday night, after tests for the presence of anthrax came back negative.

"We do not have contamination at the federal mail sorting facility," said Thomas Day, the Postal Service's vice president of engineering, at a press conference Wednesday evening. The agency temporarily closed the building, on V Street, N.E., Tuesday after tests at a Federal Reserve mailroom indicated the potential presence of anthrax.

Postal employees at the V Street facility will be able to return to work Thursday, Day said. There was no evidence that any employee or member of the public has been exposed to any health risk, according to Day.

The V Street facility is used for processing mail that goes to several different federal agencies. After closing the building Tuesday, the Postal Service took 86 air and surface samples-none of which tested positive for anthrax, Day said.

Earlier this month, the Federal Reserve took 36 air and surface samples to test for the presence of anthrax in its mailrooms-which are not located at the headquarters building-and one of the samples tested positive. The Fed routinely tests its mail at a separate secure facility.

The Federal Reserve notified the Postal Service about the positive sample Tuesday, prompting the V Street facility's temporary shutdown. According to Day, the Fed has had false positives on anthrax tests in the past, so they performed more tests before informing the Postal Service of the situation. No specific piece of mail tested positive for anthrax, Day said.

The sample which tested positive for the presence of anthrax was sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further testing.

The Postal Service's approach to the latest anthrax scare is markedly different from its response to Washington's anthrax attacks of October 2001.

During the initial days after that attack, Postal Service officials said they were relying on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for guidance. 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 he 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.

Matthew Weinstock contributed to this report.