Postal Service Shuts Capitol Mail Facility; Hearing Still on for Today

The discovery of ricin at a Senate office building led the U.S. Postal Service to close the Washington mail facility that handles government mail yesterday.

A Senate committee hearing on postal reform set for today will be held at a different time and location.

The postal service's V Street facility was closed late Monday night out of “an abundance of caution,” according to the USPS.

Senate office staffers found the substance, a powder containing what later was confirmed as the castor bean-derived poison known as ricin, in a mailroom facility in the Dirksen building late Monday. The discovery led to the closure of the Dirksen building and two other Senate office buildings.

Though congressional mail normally is received from the V Street facility, the USPS said there is no evidence yet that the material moved through the mail.

A validation test of the material was conducted yesterday morning by the Maryland Department of Public Health. In addition, environmental samples from the V Street facility were to be tested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Sen. Bill Frist, the Republican Senate majority leader, told senators yesterday that tests had confirmed the powder contained ricin, according to the Associated Press.

V Street postal employees scheduled for work yesterday were asked to report to Washington's Curseen-Morris Processing and Distribution Center, where they were briefed about the situation.

“All of the mail that we consolidate and send out to government agencies through our V Street facility is on hold at the moment,” said USPS spokesman Bob Anderson, who added that U.S. Capitol Police and the Department of Homeland Security are taking the lead on this investigation.

Anderson said he did not know when the V Street facility would reopen.

“We are waiting for Capitol Police and other law and health officials on that investigation to tell us what they've got, and then we will work backward and see where we have to go,” he said.

In an apparently unrelated incident, a clerk at the Southern Connecticut Processing and Distribution Center in Wallingford, CT, reported that a granular substance was leaking from a letter sorted there Monday evening. The area was isolated and employees reassigned to other locations in the building.

A preliminary field test by the Connecticut State Police Emergency Services Unit was “inconclusive,” and the Connecticut State Public Health Laboratory is conducting additional testing.

The Senate office building closures forced the cancellation of a Senate Government Affairs Committee hearing on postal reform that had been set to take place in the Dirksen building yesterday morning.

Late yesterday, a second hearing of the committee slated for 9:30 a.m. today was rescheduled for 2 p.m. at the Rayburn building. Committee members were set to discuss postal labor issues at the two hearings.

Scheduled to testify at the canceled hearing were Dan Blair, deputy director of the Office of Personnel Management, and postal labor leaders including American Postal Workers Union president William Burrus and National Association of Letter Carriers president William Young.

Today's hearing features testimony from postal management organizations and labor experts. A new date has not been set for the canceled meeting.

A third postal reform hearing by the House Government Reform Committee, featuring Burrus, Young and other labor leaders from the canceled meeting as well as postal management leaders, remains scheduled for tomorrow in Chicago.

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