Postal Updates

Mercury leak in Missouri delays USPS first-class mail

Feb 1, 2024, 10 AM

By Allen Abel

A leak of liquid mercury from an illegally shipped parcel in Missouri caused a marked decrease in the on-time delivery of first-class mail, the United States Postal Service said in a Jan. 5 news release.

Only 85.4 percent of first-class mail had been delivered on time during the first quarter of fiscal year 2024 (October through December 2023), as measured against the USPS service standard, the USPS said. That was a decrease of 5.7 percent from the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2023 (July through September).

The USPS ascribed some of the decline to “the extended shutdown of a critical St. Louis, MO processing facility due to a mercury leak from an illegally shipped package resulting in a lengthy decontamination period,” even though the incident had occurred Oct. 26, 2023.

According to Roschell Murray, a 34-year USPS veteran and president of Local 7043 of the American Postal Workers Union, the St. Louis bulk mail center in Hazelwood, Mo., was restored to full operation only 14 days after the Oct. 26 spill.

“We were shut down exactly two weeks; everything was normal but extremely cleaner,” Murray told Linn’s Stamp News in a Jan. 10 phone interview.

“It wasn’t an abundance of mail,” Murray said. “There was not that much mail that they had to destroy. Whatever else they’re trying to blame it for, I don’t believe one word of it.”

“I was in the mail flow control room when someone came to tell me to shut both of the sorters off,” Murray said. “Now, I don’t shut the sorters unless I know why. So I asked and I was told it was a spill. But we never had shut off both sorters before because of a spill; that’s not normal procedure. That’s when we were told it was hazardous.

“They came back a couple of minutes later and told all the employees to report to the break room. Then they said to report to the cafeteria. We did not find out it was mercury until we were walking to the cafeteria. When we got there, we all started looking up what … is mercury, and how dangerous is it? Supposedly, they brought in some special equipment and they saw droplets of mercury everywhere. We had a couple of people who went to the emergency room, but they were all released.”

“When we did return to the building two weeks later, they had supposedly spent $3 million on a team of hazardous-waste experts,” Murray said. “But the one who talked to us, he never wore a mask and he said that the mercury wasn’t dangerous to us but they had to do what they did because it was protocol.”

As for the cause of the incident, “It was an older lady who was sending a package of her husband’s stuff to her son or daughter,” according to Murray. “We knew exactly where it came from.”

“Remediation efforts are now complete at the Hazelwood Network Distribution Center (NDC) and the Desoto Post Office,” a USPS spokesperson informed Linn’s on Jan. 25.

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