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Postal service seeks aid in anthrax aftermath

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The nation's chief postmaster was on Capitol Hill Thursday to make a case before Congress for money to help his agency recover from the anthrax crisis.

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Anthrax by the numbers
17 total anthrax infections

  -- 10 cases inhalation anthrax (4 dead)

  -- 7 cases cutaneous anthrax

Source: CDC/CNN

Postmaster General John Potter told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that the U.S. Postal Service will need billions of dollars to solve all the problems created by mailed bacteria, and outlined what the post office plans for the $175 million that President Bush has earmarked for it out of Homeland Security funds.

"We estimate the entire cost for terrorism and dealing with homeland security to be $3 (billion) to $4 billion," Potter said. "We are working on the premise that the leaders of the nation want all the mail system to be protected against this type of terrorist threat in the future."

Additionally, Potter said the service is facing a $2 billion deficit this year because of the "unanticipated financial burdens that have been placed on the postal system by the events of September 11 and the subsequent use of the postal service as a vehicle for further attacks. ...

"The financial impacts I have described are the consequences of terrorist activity. They should be considered costs of homeland security."

Potter told the senators that the largest initial expense the post office faces will be purchasing equipment to sanitize the mail and paying to have mail cleansed until new machinery is in place. The postal service also has higher costs from facilities damaged in the attack in New York, disruption of service, medical testing and emergency treatment, protective equipment for employees, testing and decontamination facilities.

"We will do everything possible to protect the lives and safety of employees and customers." he said. "And we will keep the mail moving. This is vital to the nation, to our economy, and the men and women who work in the entire mailing industry that represents 9 million jobs and fuels 8 percent of the country's gross domestic product."

While the postal service seeks help to stay afloat, investigators are seeking clues to the anthrax mystery that caused the agency's latest woes. President Bush will be in Atlanta, Georgia, on Thursday, where he is scheduled to meet with scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many of whom have been working on the anthrax puzzle.

Three anthrax-laced letters have been found -- all postmarked at the regional processing facility near Trenton, New Jersey -- and the path of those letters has left a trail of contamination from New York to Florida and into the Midwest.

Seventeen people have contracted the potentially deadly disease -- including 10 who inhaled spores and developed the more serious inhalation variety. Four of those 10 died, including two postal workers at Washington's Brentwood processing facility.

The deaths of those two postal workers has opened a floodgate of criticism from officials and others who think not enough was done quickly enough to prevent the deaths.

The Brentwood facility was shut down October 21, and remains closed. A Pentagon substation, the New Jersey processing facility that postmarked the tainted letters, and a stamp facility in Kansas City are also closed, as is a processing facility in southern New Jersey ordered shut by a federal judge until an arbitrator can resolve a dispute between the postal service and the postal workers union.

Some 32,000 people have started an antibiotic treatment after a potential exposure to anthrax, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Thursday, and about 300 facilities have been tested for the bacteria. Most of those affected are postal workers and postal facilities.


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