Is UMB Hazardous Material Management Response Team Prepared?

Natalia Cooper and Natalia Cooper

After the death of two postal service workers – who were confirmed to have been infected with anthrax – the United States Postal Service is taking action to insure the safety of their workers. Due to the recent incidences of contaminated mail, they have adopted new strategies to prevent further harm. Here at UMB, there are several organizations on campus which are responding to the unlikely possibility of such contamination through our mail delivery systems.

“We have no reason to think that the campus would be targeted, nonetheless, a certain amount of caution is necessary,” according to Brian Dumser, assistant director of the Department of Environmental Health & Safety at UMB. However, as a reassurance and protection to staff and the community, they are providing protective gloves to the mail handlers. Employees also have the option to wear masks if they wish to do so. In addition, they are providing information and training to employees about the proper response.

“An unexpected and unfamiliar hazard always creates a lot more anxiety than something we know and are familiar with,” Dumser said. He went on to explain that the university already has an efficient system for the handling of chemical or biological events.

This system was implemented in response to a situation on campus on October 24. One of the shuttle drivers threw his coffee cup into a trashcan and a burst of white powder clouded up. Someone called the campus authorities and the Hazardous Material Management Response Team was called in. They weren’t able to determine what the powder was and called the Boston Fire Department Team. By the time they arrived, the campus team had already discovered what the source of the scare was: coffee creamer.

It is not a common practice that UMB has to use the Hazardous Material Management Response Team, but it does occur. On October 16, they held a meeting to review that protocol. It was necessary to take such precautions before an anthrax scare even entered the public psyche. Some of the science research labs on campus use chemicals that, if not monitored properly, can be potentially dangerous.

A stepped response system is already in place in the event of such a complaint. If there is a report of a mysterious substance in an area of the University, this team is called. They first attempt to identify the substance or a likely source of the substance. Sometimes a pile of “unexplained dust, not necessarily related to mail,” said Dumser, in someone’s office or an area of the school can be easily and quickly identified as something innocuous, a result of damaged plasterboard or wall. If the team finds a reasonable explanation for the substance, they clean the area and leave, job done. If the team cannot determine the source of the substance they close off the area and call the Boston Fire Department Hazardous Materials Management Team.

Planning is underway for a general presentation to the university community. The forum will include presentations from the Department of Environmental Health and Safety, University Health Services, and possibly the Public Safety Department also. The goal of such a forum is to educate people about potential risks. In the meantime, for more information on anthrax, visit the UHS website at services/health or the Centers for Disease Control website at