Tests offer no clues in postal workers’ illnesses

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, November 20, 2001

MONTICELLO — Test results for the cause of an illness that sentfour postal workers to the hospital were inconclusive, according toauthorities.

“The results of the test of the ink and swipes from the twopostal delivery trucks have come back inconclusive,” said MayorDavid Nichols.

All physical evidence in the case has been tested, Nichols said,so officials are now hoping doctors’ diagnoses can help determinethe cause.

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“Authorities continue to work the case,” he said, “but their jobto determine the cause of the illnesses will be more difficult withthese latest results.”

Two U.S. Postal Service employees remain under observation andtreatment at Lawrence County Hospital nearly two weeks after theevent.

“They seem to be improving. I haven’t heard any different,” saidHospital Administrator Semmes Ross.

Although the nature of the illness-causing substance is stillunknown, the FBI, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and StateHealth Department have all ruled out anthrax as a source of theillness. The source, however, is still under investigation.

At one time, the investigation was focused on a mailbagcontaining religious newsletters. The employees reported smelling anoxious odor and feeling ill when a certain mailbag was opened,Nichols said. Investigators believed the source may have been theink used in the newsletters, but the test results detected nothingunusual in the ink.

“There were no foreign substances in the ink,” Nichols said.

The incident began at approximately 7:30 a.m. on Nov. 8 whenthree postal employees “suddenly became violently sick,” saidNichols.

The two women and one man were taken to the office of Dr.Brantley Pace complaining of “an overwhelming odor and pungentmaterial” they had apparently breathed in while working, Nicholssaid.

All three workers were transferred to the hospital for furtherobservation and tests.

A fourth person, who works for Harrigill Trucking, which isunder contract to the Postal Service to deliver bulk mail, becameill the next day and passed out while delivering mail to the SontagPost Office.

The man later told investigators he had delivered bulk mail toMonticello the day before and felt ill, but continued to work,Nichols said.

The Department of Environmental Quality took swipes of trucks hedrove both days, but those tests were also inconclusive.

The mayor said there is no reason for people to avoid using thepost offices.

“The post office is safe,” he said. “DEQ has taken air samplesat the Monticello Post Office and the surrounding areas and foundno toxins.”

Police Chief Willard Griffin had closed the Monticello PostOffice briefly Nov. 8 until receiving word from the Postal Servicein Jackson to reopen it later that day.

“I would like to take this opportunity to urge all citizens,business owners and governmental agencies that if you noticeanything out of the ordinary, whether it is an odor, unidentifiedsubstance or a suspicious looking person, to leave the areaimmediately and notify your local law enforcement agencies,” themayor said. “With all that is going on in the world today it isbetter to err on the side of caution.”