Anthrax Scare at My Work Yesterday

Well, yesterday afternoon all the images I’ve seen of spacesuited emergency workers in the USA came to my workplace in Sydney. Not that we hadn’t kinda been expecting it: I work in one of the city’s two big mail sorting centres. Still, after seeing this stuff on my TV, it was frighteningly real.

About half an hour after I got to work, I started to see some of the supervisors looking a bit panicky. Then people running. Then a nerve-jangling WOOP WOOP WOOP emergency evacuation siren. I joined the tide of people heading out to the carpark. Then we heard sirens. A Fire Chief’s four wheel drive screeched into the loading dock. Then a fire engine. Then another one. Then the cops, a Fire Brigade HAZMAT unit, more cops, a second HAZMAT truck…

One of my colleagues found a letter containing white powder. It was posted in either India or Pakistan (still not sure on this). She got some of the powder on her skin. Along with four others at the scene, she was showered down by the HAZMAT crew, and given a weird looking body suit to replace her normal clothes. About five or ten HAZMAT guys in weird looking blue space suits disinfected the entire building, and took samples of the powder away for analysis.

At this stage, I haven’t heard the result of the analysis -no doubt I’ll find out when I head back in there this afternoon. The police said it’s probably not anthrax -in fact they admitted it’s more than likely heroin. So, it’s probably nothing, but it’s still a bit scary, especially given the fact that the five contaminated staff members were led right past me (I was at a coffee machine next to the first aid room). The stupid managers walked them the entire length of the building, past dozens of people including, unfortunately, yours truly. So, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

The same thing happened a few hours later at the other sorting centre across town.

We had the same thing in Sydney on Monday but there are interesting differences in what happened. The parcel went to the mailroom on level 4 and then on to the library on level 5. The librarian opened the package and found a white powder, locked herself in the library and rang security.

When the Hazmat guys evacuated us, they only evacuated levels 4 and 5, isolated us and disinfected everyone on those floors with hand sprayers. The librarian was taken to hospital.

We were told to go home and the 2 floors were disinfected. We returned on Tuesday. The guy in charge said that there have been up to 20 incidents like this in Sydney per day.

How is life at Australia Post, I worked as a sorter for a few months in 1984 at the venerable Redfern mail exchange before the accursed decentralisation. A month or 2 after decentralisation I left.

[Self Hijack]

A Redfernite? I am not worthy! :smiley:

Aussie Post has had the guts pulled out of it. I am lucky enough to remember the Rushcutters Bay MC days when it was still a mickey mouse job. These days, it’s been decentralised, corporatised, and any other sort of “…ised” you’d care to name.
[/Self Hijack]

You’re probably right about the number of scares in Sydney. The emergency services personnel looked pretty bored through the whole thing. This is the second one we’ve had at my workplace, but the first when I’ve been on duty. I think this one is being taken more seriously for some reason.

It’s amazing what a little bioterrorism does to everyone’s priorities, ain’t it?

No, no, Dog! When you hear an evacuation siren, you’re supposed to scream and run around madly in total hysteria!

Seriously, though: glad you’re okay and that the situation seems to have been handled properly.


Scary stuff, TLD. Glad you’re okay.

Gah, I can totally sympathise.

Even though the postal facility I work for doesn’t actually handle any customer mail (the building itself gets mail, you know, the bills for the lease and our paycheques and such, but we do data entry there, the employees don’t even touch any actual mail) we had an Anthrax scare just a while ago, maybe a week and a half?

The front receptionist opened a letter that was unsolicited, our address isn’t published so she figured it was from someone we did business with or something. It had white powder in it.

Building evacuated, HAZMAT, yadda yadda.

Turned out to be Oxy-Clean, a cleaner in granulated, white powder form. The Publisher’s Clearing House is sending out free samples of this cleaner in the mail, to industries and to household consumers.

Bad timing on their part.

I am glad you are okay, and that it was just a scare, and “just heroin”.

My parents are trying to talk me out of quitting, and have “forbidden” rolls her eyes me from taking a “career” clerk position if one opens up, despite the fact that it’s a bunch more money and I’d even get benefits! (woo.) They fear that our podunk town is the next target.

Ain’t nothin’ here but corn, I tell 'em, and corn can’t catch Anthrax. :slight_smile:

I’d call this post an update, except it hardly qualifies as I’ve got no new info: ie the bastards still haven’t told us the results of the analysis of that powder after five days! This is an absolutely pathetic state of affairs, as I’ve been led to believe that preliminary results can be made in hours, with conclusive results after no more than three days. I don’t have a cite for this on hand, so if any dopers can prove or disprove it, I’m keen to know.

Thanks to everyone for your “glad your ok’s”. I’m trying not to be either stupidly heroic or overly cowardly about this incident. The facts at this stage tend to go in my favour: there have been no reports of maliciously created anthrax casualties outside of the USA, all mail came from within the USA, and there have been any number of other similar incidents which have all proven to be hoaxes.

I confronted one of the managers who had led the contaminated people past me and many other staff members on their way out of the building. He claimed that they were told to remain where they were, but refused to comply. I can understand their fear, but I’m still not entirely convinced procedures were followed correctly.

MEBuckner, your post gave me a much needed laugh. I have to admit though, it did contain a nasty truth in that we’ve all changed so much since the 11th of September. It would be easy to see that as a kind of victory for the terrorists. As a believer in carrying on as much as normal, it was heartening to see a couple of cops yesterday, not wearing sterile plastic suits, or helping to evacuate the city, but questioning two possible car thieves -a “life goes on” scene which made me smile. On a suburban street in Sydney, a little kick in the pants to Mr Bin Laden.

Stress leave, Dog. Look at that day out there. Find a nice friendly GP to assert that due to the inefficient handling of the situation you are too traumatized to work for oh, say 3 weeks.

Seriously though, the situation with our scare is much the same. The package was actually posted in the US. We have not heard what the contents were. We were originally informed it could be 2 weeks before we knew definitely. Yesterday we were told we would never know, there wasn’t enough residue left to test. The woman exposed is not happy.

At the risk of asking a tasteless question, just how common was it before September 11 for packages/letters being processed at our mail centres to leak white powder and what was the SOP when they did (I assume HAZMAT wasn’t called in everytime cocaine or heroin leaked over postal workers)?

If you’re in need of some stress-busting TLD, let me know when you’re next free day is and we’ll dissect this incident in depth over a few cold ones.

I think the world’s various postal administrations, like the airlines, have been given a much needed wake-up call by this. Prior to the terrorist attacks, security was mainly aimed at making sure postal workers don’t slip things into their pockets (quite rare, BTW), rather than making sure they don’t keel over and turn their toes up. Our biggest fear would have been letterbombs (there was an explosion at a Perth mail centre a few years back). Needlestick injuries are also a concern -not from letters, but from needles thrown into street posting boxes. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day soon, these boxes won’t exist, and you’ll need to go directly to a post office to mail anything.

Over the years I’ve had all sorts of crap spill out on me from letters and parcels. Sending small amounts of illegal drugs through the mail is very common, but those articles tend to be the most securely packed of them all. Usually the leaky ones will be things like spices, or beach sand sent by a kid who wants to show grandpa he’s having a good holiday.

You’re on. How does an arvo/evening in the middle of next week sound?

Sounds good to me; I’ll phone you towards the end of the week to arrange a time and place.