Irradiated Mail Complaints

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The Senate is looking into complaints from a half-dozen Senate offices that staffers suffered health problems after handling mail that was irradiated to kill possible anthrax.

A task force is to hold its first meeting this week to analyze reports of reactions to irradiated mail, said Ranit Schmelzer, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. She said the panel would be made up of the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms and representatives from the U.S. Postal Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency and the House.

Eyeing April
The regional post office in New Jersey that's been at the center of the anthrax attacks could re-open in April.

That word from the mayor of the town of Hamilton, where the facility is located.

The Hamilton mail processing plant processed anthrax-laced letters that were sent to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Senator Patrick Leahy and the New York Post.

Postal officials have met with local authorities, union leaders and lawmakers to talk about the post office and its clean-up.

It's been closed since mid-October.

After an anthrax-contaminated letter was discovered last October in Daschle's office in the Hart Senate office building, all mail service to Capitol Hill offices was stopped for six weeks. All congressional mail is now irradiated at Postal Service facilities in Ohio and New Jersey before being delivered. Mail to federal office buildings in Washington is also treated.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in a letter Friday to Daschle, said her chief of staff reported a burning sensation in his hands after going through his mail, and her office manager complained of eye, nose and throat irritation as well as headaches, a burning sensation on her hands and face and a metallic taste in her mouth.

Other staff had described feeling dizzy and nauseated when working with mail, she wrote.

Feinstein's spokesman, Howard Gantman, said the health problems were temporary but still worrisome. He noted that the amount of radiation being used was more intense than that used for sterilizing medical equipment because health experts didn't know the levels needed to kill anthrax.

David Carle, spokesman for Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said two people in Leahy's office had experienced symptoms such as lightheadednss, rashes, nausea and headaches when opening mail. He said they now wear gloves and open doors and windows when going through the mail.

"Sen. Daschle takes the concerns raised by Sen. Feinstein and others very seriously," Schmelzer said. "He wants to do everything to ensure that everyone is safe and stays healthy."

Postal Service spokesman Gerry Kreienkamp said the agency found no clinical evidence that the irradiation process caused health problems.

Earlier this month, at least 11 workers at the Commerce Department complained of nausea, breathing problems and throat irritation in an incident apparently linked to irradiated mail. A Fire Department spokesman said a package of copier paper that was tightly wrapped in plastic gave off a noxious gas when opened.

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