Decade After Anthrax Attacks, Postal Service Remains Vigilant

Wednesday, 02 Nov 2011 03:50 PM

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A decade after letters laden with anthrax killed five people and injured 11, the U.S. Postal Service has put in place both human and machine screeners to thwart such attacks and continually update supervisors and postal inspectors on potential threats. Since the attacks that began in September 2011, postal inspectors have responded to about 52,000 calls concerning suspicious mail, The Washington Post reported.

Although most of the incidents turn out to be false alarms, they are nonetheless threatening. In 2009, Jay Stuart DeVaughn mailed 26 letters to President Barack Obama and others filled with a white powder that turned out to be coffee sweetener. DeVaughn was sentenced to six years in federal prison for the incidents, the Post reported.

In January, two packages delivered to a government building in Maryland flashed when opened. The next day, a package sent to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano ignited at a post office building. The cases remain unsolved, according to the Post.

The Postal Service spends $101 million a year to screen first class mail. Screening includes being on the lookout for suspicious letters such as those without return addresses and using machines to take air samples. Mail sent to the federal government gets an additional level of scrutiny and is shipped to New Jersey to be irradiated, the Post reported.

“Most people, I think, have forgotten about anthrax in the mail,” the Post quotes Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe as saying. “And truthfully, that’s probably not a bad thing.”

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