A postal worker claims that handling a suspicious package is the cause of his terminal illness. The Postal Service itself couldn't disagree more.
Postal worker Jeffrey Lill says he last year felt a burning sensation upon smelling a package that was postmarked from Yemen and leaking a brown, syrupy substance, The Florida Center For Investigative Reporting reports. Two weeks prior, the Postal Service had allegedly intercepted packages containing bomb materials sent from the Arabian country. Since then, Lill says he continues to suffer headaches, fatigue and neurological and liver problems, all consistent with toxic exposure, according to The Florida Center For Investigative Reporting.
UPDATE: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has launched an investigation into the cause of Lill's illness.
Doctors say they can’t identify Lill's illness until they know what was in the package, but there's a problem: The Postal Service denies that it ever even existed, only acknowledging that a supposedly harmless spill happened two days prior to the incident. Though three of Lill's co-workers corroborated his account, the Postal Service never reported the incident to the Department of Homeland Security according to protocol, WUSF reports.
Lill is now bedridden, unable to work and living with his mother in Rochester, New York. Yet he's far from the first to report a suspicious package. Fortunately, some scares turn out to be nothing more than just that. In March, for example, a yellow liquid originally thought to be hazardous after making three San Jose postal employees sick turned out to be a form of herbal tea, according to NBC.
Yet since 9/11, reports of suspicious and potentially dangerous items have dramatically increased. In 2010, for example, 10,567 instances of suspicious packages were reported in New York City alone, up from 7,411 one year before, USA Today reports.
Over that same period, workplace injuries have actually slightly decreased. For every 100 hundred full-time employees, 3.5 sustained nonfatal work injuries in 2010, down from 3.6 the year before, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Department of Energy has rules in place to compensate employees who are exposed to potentially harmful substances like uranium, and calls have been made among industry and business interest groups for expanding such legislation , The Hill reports.
The episode is just the latest in a slew of controversies for the Postal Service too. Faced with huge deficits, the agency is perilously close to bankruptcy. Just last week, the Postal Service announced that it would hold off on plans to shutter 3,700 rural offices throughout the country, despite already losing more than $6 billion this year. Instead, it will shorten the operating hours at some of those offices to as little as two hours daily, TIME reports.
House legislation to allow the Postal Service to make broad cuts is currently pending, but a recent survey found that attempts to save money could actually be counterproductive for the government agency. Instead of saving an estimated $3 billion, the Postal Service would lose $5 billion if it followed through on cost cutting measures, a report commissioned by the Postal Service found.