Feds Issue Contaminated-Mail Guide for Election Worker

Contaminated Mail

With the primary election season in full swing and the general elections coming this fall, the U.S. Cybersecruity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued a guide for how to identify and handle mail that could be contaminated with hazardous or dangerous materials.

“Over the past two decades, U.S. government offices and employees have been the target of multiple incidents using letters containing hazardous materials, including suspicious letters mailed to election offices in California, Georgia, Nevada, Oregon and Washington in 2023,” the guide reads.

Also Read: Hazmat Lessons from 3 Recent Suspicious Substance Calls

The guide advises that all election offices should have procedures in place to handle mail and respond to potential hazardous materials exposure, and all personnel should be trained on these procedures. Procedures will vary across jurisdictions, depending on the size of the jurisdiction and number of personnel handling mail, among other factors.

Here’s a snippet of what’s in the guide and what hazmat teams should expect when called to these incidents.

While some larger election offices have dedicated mail processing facilities, the majority of election offices do not. In these smaller offices, mail screening activities for election and non-election mail are often conducted within the same building that serves as the primary election office location. In either situation, the following considerations will prepare staff to handle suspicious mail:

  • Mail Handling Location: Mail handling should take place in an isolated area with direct access to the outside of the building, limiting movement of mail within the building prior to screening. If direct outside access is not feasible, mail should be processed in a location that minimizes the spread of any potential hazardous material, such as a room with doors that can be closed. Inside this location should be prominently displayed signs which highlight suspicious letter and package indicators as visual guides for mail handling.
  • Personal Protective Equipment: When handling any type of mail, offices should make available to staff handling mail a smock or apron, mask or respirator and nitrile gloves with a minimum thickness of 5 mil. These items help protect individuals from potential exposure to hazards.
  • Naloxone/Narcan: the use of fentanyl as a potential hazard in targeted attacks against election offices, consider having on hand a minimum of two doses of Naloxone per person handling mail. Naloxone, often referred to by its brand name Narcan, is a life-saving medication that can reverse an overdose from opioids like fentanyl, and has no effect on someone who does not have opioids in their system. Staff should know where this medication is located and be trained in proper usage.

If a potential hazardous material exposure occurs, election workers should take the following steps. If the exposed individual(s) demonstrate signs of a fentanyl or opioid overdose, use these additional steps recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

1. Call 911 to request local law enforcement and emergency medical services (EMS).

2. Avoid actions that may cause powder to become airborne—do not move the mail piece around, shake out the contents, or blow on it. If possible, place a garbage can or other container over the mail piece and/or spilled powder. Leave items in place.

3. Leave the room where the potential hazardous material is and close the door.

4. Isolate the immediate area and provide warnings to personnel not to enter the area. If possible, turn off ventilation or HVAC systems or contact building maintenance to do so.

5. Do not touch your eyes, mouth, nose, or any skin after touching any potentially contaminated surface.

6. Remove any clothing or other items worn that may be contaminated with powder, including mail handling PPE. Place the items inside a plastic bag or under a garbage can. If possible, do not pull clothes over the head.

7. Wash skin thoroughly with cool water and soap. Do not use hand sanitizers or any alcohol-based cleaners or bleach, as they may enhance absorption.

8. Account for all people who were in the room where the potential exposure occurred and keep them together, outside if possible, until emergency responders arrive.

9. If possible, avoid direct contact with any other person.

10. As soon as practical report the incident details to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Postal Inspection Service.

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