Lott's office gets letter scare;
district offices put on alert
House and Senate mail
in Washington routinely screened before delivery.
By Marty Russell
Members of Northeast Mississippi's congressional delegation said they are using caution when opening mail both in their Washington and Mississippi offices following the discovery of a letter containing anthrax in the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle Monday.
U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., and his staff also got a scare Monday morning that turned out to be a false alarm.
"(Monday) morning a package came to the office in an unmarked envelope," Lott spokesman Lee Youngblood said. "So the folks in the mailroom alerted authorities and they came in with masks and gloves on and checked it out and it turned out to be just a piece of intra-office mail."
House and Senate mail in Washington has been routinely screened before delivery to members' offices for years, a spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said. But, she pointed out, the letter to Daschle made it through anyway.
She said Cochran's offices were simply being cautious and that the only change in routine Monday was that a second delivery of mail did not arrive as usual.
Cochran's office is not located in the same building as Daschle's, which investigators closed after discovery of the anthrax-carrying letter.
Kyle Steward, a spokesman for 1st District U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said Wicker would comply with recommendations issued Monday by the House's chief administrative officer, which include additional mail screening that will delay deliveries by about 24 hours.
But Steward said screening in Washington doesn't protect the local offices most congressmen keep in their home states and districts.
"My concern is for the district offices," said Steward, who works out of Wicker's Tupelo office. "We're going to be much more vigilant here and in our Southaven office."
"We've basically all had the same advice to heed the warnings and procedures no matter what office we're at and I think that's what we're trying to do," said Youngblood, who works in Lott's office in Jackson.
Earl Artis, manager of public affairs for the U.S. Postal Service's Southeastern region, said postal employees are being reminded of their training in handling potentially hazardous materials.
"We've been re-educating our employees about hazardous materials procedures on the basic premise that knowledge is power," Artis said.
He said, despite some rumors, postal employees were not being issued latex gloves to handle mail but if an employee requested such an item, the postal service would be willing to accommodate them.
"We're not willy nilly handing (gloves) out to people but if they feel like they need to have that then certainly we'll accommodate them," Artis said. "The highest priority we have is the safety of our employees."