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Highlights

The anthrax attacks of 2001 resulted in 23 cases of the disease, 5 deaths, and the contamination of numerous U.S. Postal Service facilities, including the Southern Connecticut Processing and Distribution Center in Wallingford, Connecticut (the Wallingford facility). But none of the workers at the Wallingford facility contracted the disease from the anthrax contamination. As a result, GAO was asked to examine the adequacy of methods used to determine whether the Wallingford facility and other postal facilities were contaminated. In this testimony, GAO presents its preliminary findings concerning the test results for the Wallingford facility: (1) the collection of samples to detect anthrax, (2) the meaning of the test results, and (3) the communication of the test results to workers.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
United States Postal Service The impact of additional anthrax cases could result in illness or loss of life as well as loss of confidence in the nation's postal system. Further, even though the health risk is probably low, it is uncertain; therefore, the Postmaster General should, in consultation with CDC, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), as well as any other relevant agencies and postal unions, for those facilities that were deemed to free of anthrax spores based solely on a single negative sampling result, reassess the risk level for postal workers at those facilities and the general public served by those facilities.
Closed - Implemented
The Postal Service set up a working group composed of CDC, EPA, postal, and other agency officials to reassess the risk level and reconsider whether additional facility testing is needed. The resulting report, dated August 2004, provides the results of the working group's assessment. According to the report, the working group concluded that the risk to postal workers and the public is negligible, in part because continued epidemiological tracking has not revealed additional cases of anthrax disease.
United States Postal Service The impact of additional anthrax cases could result in illness or loss of life as well as loss of confidence in the nation's postal system. Further, even though the health risk is probably low, it is uncertain; therefore, the Postmaster General should , in consultation with CDC, EPA, OSHA, as well as any other relevant agencies and postal unions, for those facilities that were deemed to free of anthrax spores based solely on a single negative sampling result, reconsider the advisability of retesting those facilities and employing the most effective sampling methods and procedures.
Closed - Implemented
The Postal Service set up a working group composed of CDC, EPA, postal, and other agency officials to reassess the risk level and reconsider whether additional facility testing is needed. The resulting report, dated August 2004, provides the results of the working group's assessment. According to the report, the working group concluded that the risk to postal workers and the public is negligible, in part because continued epidemiological tracking has not revealed additional cases of anthrax disease. Thus, according to the working group, there is no need to conduct additional testing.
United States Postal Service The impact of additional anthrax cases could result in illness or loss of life as well as loss of confidence in the nation's postal system. Further, even though the health risk is probably low, it is uncertain; therefore, the Postmaster General should, in consultation with CDC, EPA, OSHA, as well as any other relevant agencies and postal unions, for those facilities that were deemed to free of anthrax spores based solely on a single negative sampling result, communicate to the postal workers and the general public the results of the reassessment of health risk, the advisability of retesting, the rationale for these decisions, and other relevant information that may be helpful regarding the health of the postal workers and the general public.
Closed - Implemented
The Postal Service set up a working group composed of CDC, EPA, postal, and other agency officials to reassess the risk level and reconsider whether additional facility testing is needed. The resulting report, dated August 2004, provides the results of the working group's assessment. According to the report, the working group concluded that the risk to postal workers and the public is negligible, in part because continued epidemiological tracking has not revealed additional cases of anthrax disease. Thus, according to the working group, there is no need to conduct additional testing. The Postal Service communicated the working group's results to postal workers and the public, including the rationale for the group's decisions.

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