Anthrax scare shuts down Johnson City Post Office

From Staff Reports

   An anthrax scare at the Main Street Post Office in East Johnson City had postal employees on high alert late Monday night and early Tuesday, according to Postmaster Rusty Field.
   Field said that a "powder" was found on a loading dock at the post office and that a private hazardous materials team had been called in by local authorities to remove the substance. The powder has been taken for lab analysis at the State Public Health Service in Nashville.
   Field said that the post office has "had biohazard incident procedures in place since the Clinton administration," and that those procedures were followed during the incident. Postal employees covered the powder with plastic and cordoned off the area before calling 911, Field said.
   Field said that he doubts the substance was anthrax, though under the circumstances, it was best for employees to err on the side of caution.
   "We handle only half a million packages per day, a fraction of the 680 million shipped daily nationwide," he said. "We don't deliver to any obvious political or military targets, so the chances of this being anything serious are infinitesimal."
   Employees at the post office have not been instructed to take antibiotics, Field said -- adding that the incident "did not meet the criteria to qualify as a threat."
   The office was shut down for more than two hours while Hepaco field technician removed the powder. Field said that the private company had been called in by authorities because local hazmat crews were "not capable" of dealing with biohazardous materials."
   In response to a rumor that the powder was laundry detergent, Field said, "We are constantly delivering detergent samples from Procter and Gamble, so there is always a chance that the substance could be washing powder. But we don't know that at this point.
   "We didn't find any mail or any mail container that was leaking."
   Most employees at the post office do not wear gloves and masks, according to Field, though both were made available weeks ago.
   "We did have a few employees who were wearing gloves," Field said. "But less people are wearing them now after the incident."
   Lab results are expected before Friday, he said.