Opinion

Patience appreciated in light of threats

It's important to me that you know how frustrating it's been not to be able to respond to letters written to my office since Sept. 11.

The report in mid-October that anthrax-contaminated letters were sent to several locations throughout the nation - including many offices on Capitol Hill - sent our nation into an even deeper state of shock and fear. From workers in Washington, D.C., to families around the nation who have loved ones working in our nation's capitol, we are all deeply concerned about the health and safety of anyone associated with the government and its mail delivery system.

Dealing with anthrax contamination is a threat with which we have not before been faced. Despite how much we have learned about treatment, prevention and decontamination, there are still long lists of unknown factors - most notably, the source of the anthrax-contaminated letters.

Within hours of the confirmed report that an anthrax-contaminated letter had been received on Capitol Hill, the house leadership made the prudent decision to evacuate all offices and hold all mail for inspection. In addition to positive anthrax tests in the Hart Senate Office Building, five offices in the Longworth Building, where my Washington, D.C., office is located, also tested positive for anthrax. Following a two-and-a-half week closure of the Longworth House Office Building, with members of Congress and staff being housed in temporary office space, most offices have reopened and work has returned to normal, with the exception of regular mail delivery.

While I support the measures taken by the House leadership and our government to ensure the safety of workers in Washington, D.C., I understand the frustration of those who have sent letters to my office and have not received responses.

To date, nearly 600 bags of mail bound for Capitol Hill have been diverted to Ohio for inspection and irradiation. Of those, 65 were found to be contaminated with anthrax and no final decision has been made as to how those should be handled. We may never know whether any of these letters contaminated others originating in Washington State, or whether any were intended for my office. Many of them will never be delivered and will be burned.

It was announced recently that the mailbags free of anthrax would be sent back to Capitol Hill and distributed to the appropriate offices, beginning as quickly as possible.

While I know it will be an enormous undertaking to catch up to nearly two months of mail, I can assure you that my office will work as hard as possible and as quickly as possible to respond to your correspondence.

Fortunately, many people in the 8th District correspond with me via e-mail, which was never disrupted during the anthrax ordeal. For your information, the e-mail address to my office is dunnwa08@mail.house.gov.

For those who do not have access to e-mail, I welcome calls to my offices. The Mercer Island office number is (206) 275-3438, and the Washington D.C., office number is (202) 225-7761. If you choose to continue sending letters via the U.S. Postal Service, it is my hope that mail delivery will return to normal by the first of the year.

I am grateful to 8th District residents for their support and continued patience as we work together to recover from the events of Sept. 11 and deal with the threats of bioterrorism.

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