African American Bioethics: Culture, Race, and Identity

By Lawrence J. Prograis Jr.; Edmund D. Pellegrino | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Religion and Ethical Decision
Making in the African American
Community:Bioterrorism and
the Black Postal Workers

Cheryl J. Sanders

IN THE weeks following the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, some letters containing deadly anthrax spores were mailed to two senators on Capitol Hill, leading to the first cases of bioterrorism-related anthrax in the United States. As they were processed and delivered through the mail system, the contaminated letters caused twenty-two cases of anthrax, and among them five fatalities. Nine postal employees associated with the postal facilities that processed the letters in Tr enton, New Jersey, and in Washington, D.C., contracted anthrax. Two employees from the Brentwood facility in Washington, D.C., died.

The mailing of letters laced with anthrax exposed a troubling dimension of our nation’s public health and emergency response systems, namely, that the health and well-being of postal workers did not warrant the same immediate attention and intense measures as were given to the senators, congresspersons, and their staffs on Capitol Hill. It was obvious that the letters mailed to Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont had to have been handled by the U.S. Postal Service. Yet the test-

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