ANTHRAX SCARE Valley still checks on mail

One local TV station opens each piece of mail as if it could be contaminated.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Some Mahoning Valley companies remain cautious about handling mail after last year's anthrax scare.
Mailrooms have gloves, masks and emergency numbers close at hand just in case workers come across a suspicious package. Workers have been trained to keep a closer eye on packages and return addresses.
For WFMJ-TV, being on higher alert isn't good enough. The NBC affiliate in Youngstown is opting to be extremely cautious by opening every piece of mail as if it could be toxic.
One worker opens all mail in a sealed room so anthrax or other contaminates would be contained to that room. The worker wears gloves and a mask for protection.
John Grdic, WFMJ general manager, said he thinks the station will handle mail in this way until at least the end of this year.
Part of his reason for continuing the handling procedures is just to be on the safe side, but also he knows that media companies were targeted when letters laced with anthrax spores were mailed last year.
"They want to make headlines and put the fear of God into people. You don't know if they'll attack another TV station," he said.
At hospital
St. Elizabeth Health Center also uses a closed room to sort its mail, but it has eased the precautions taken by workers.
For several weeks during the anthrax scare, workers wore respirators and gloves, but now they don't, said Chris McCarty, a hospital spokesman.
Gloves remain in the room, but workers wear them only if they want to when handling a suspicious package, he said. Also, workers don't open the mail, just sort it.
One change from the pre-Sept. 11 procedures is that no one else can enter the room while mail is being sorted, McCarty said. Before, hospital volunteers sometimes stopped in.
Mail sorters also are monitoring all incoming mail more closely, he said.
At some local companies that were checked this week, officials said that not much has changed in their handling of the mail, but workers have been trained to watch for suspicious packages.
"We're just a whole lot more cautious now," said Bob Piotter, human resources director at the Cafaro Co. in Youngstown.
He said the worker who sorts the company's mail uses gloves but doesn't open mail. Gloves also have been given to others who receive the sorted mail, but they may or may not be wearing them, he said.
Glove use
Officials at Seven Seventeen Credit Union and Delphi Packard Electric Systems said mailroom workers have gloves available but don't use them routinely.
Ann Cornell, a Packard spokeswoman, said workers in the mailroom have been trained to put any suspicious packages in a bag and call security. The maker of electrical wiring systems and related parts has people who are trained in how to handle materials that are potentially hazardous, she said.
Not all companies have felt threatened, however.
Roger Jones, owner of Fireline in Youngstown, said he decided last year that the risk of anthrax contamination was too small for his company to worry about.
He said he doubted that his company, which employs 67 in making ceramic products for industry, would be a target of terrorists.
He added that the number of contaminated letters last year was a tiny fraction of all the mail delivered and he has confidence that the postal service is adequately screening mail for threats.
He thinks workers at his company have better things to do than worry about being harmed by mail.
"We want to put our time into making sure our product is right for our customers," he said.

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