Claims of mysterious illness investigated

Post office worker claims health problems
November 23, 2008 9:00:00 PM PST
Ernest Perry worked for nearly 20 years at the Raleigh mail processing center. He says he sorted mail using giant machines that spewed dust until he started getting sick."You see dust, flying," said Perry. "It's constant mail movement, constant mail all around you," he continued.

He says when he started having shortness of breath he thought it was allergies or the flu until it became so bad that he went to the hospital.

"I went to the emergency room and the doctors were just mesmerized looking at my lungs, and, of course that feeling of, "Oh, no, what is it?'" said Perry.

Perry says the doctors told him it was sarcoidosis: scarring of the lungs. Normally, lungs show up black on x-rays. But, his x-rays reveal white clouds. He says over the years, it got much worse.

"It's tough to do anything," explained Perry. "It's tough to just wake up in the morning and take a deep, you can't do that. You wake up in the morning, or if you don't, you're not waking during the night trying to catch a breath."

In 2006, Perry needed a lung transplant. Perry's one of 450 postal workers all over the country who've signed a petition asking the federal government to study the impact of postal dust on their health.

"It's terrible, it's scary not being able to breathe," said Perry.

Postal workers in Chicago with similar health problems have filters that they say are from sorting machines. Perry's wondering if all that dust had something to do with his lung disease.

"I was fine before I went to the Postal Service, I had, one doctor told me about a year or so before I was diagnosed with the sarcoidosis, that I had the physiology of a trained athlete," said Perry. "You were healthy before?" asked Eyewitness News. "I was healthy, I was very healthy," Perry responded. "Something happened while you were working with the postal service?" we asked. "Yes, yes it did," said Perry.

Dr. Christine Oliver is a Harvard doctor who studies environmental and occupational medicine.

"Significant difficulties can arise as a result of work in a building with airborne contaminants or other problems," said Dr. Oliver.

She says postal paper fibers could be the source of the workers' symptoms.

"One of the critical variables is how long a person continues to work in that environment after they develop symptoms," she offered.

Two studies in 1998 from the National Institute for Occupational Safety or NIOSH and Health, one in Tampa and one in an Omaha post office, reported no direct link between health concerns and postal dust.

In 2007, NIOSH denied a request from postal workers for further studies saying they "were not likely to yield additional useful information."

Still, postal workers like Ernest Perry want an outside agency to study the dust.

"It's like, the wolf guarding the hen house," offered Perry. "You think it's a problem that the federal government is investigating another part of the federal government?" we asked. "I think it would cost them a lot of money if they found out all these people are having problems because of the dust in the post office," said Perry.

Perry wants postal workers to get to the doctor immediately if they're feeling sick.

"If they're having these problems, they need to get it checked out before it becomes, before they have to go through what I went through," he said.

A Postal Service spokesman in North Carolina told Eyewitness News they're not aware of any problems with air quality affecting their workers here. He added they don't see it as a problem here in North Carolina. Still, the USPS says it tests the air all the time to make sure it's safe.


Load Comments