For Orlando Postal Worker, Illness Still Mystery

Jeffrey A. Lill. (Photo by J.J. Barrow.)

Jeffrey A. Lill. (Photo by J.J. Barrow.)

By Trevor Aaronson
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

The case of Jeffrey A. Lill, a U.S. Postal Service employee injured at a mail-sorting facility in Orlando more than two years ago, is still unresolved.

Last year, in a story published in more than 250 news outlets worldwide, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, in partnership with the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California-Berkeley, reported that two whistleblowers and internal Postal Service emails supported Lill’s claim that he was exposed to toxic chemicals on Feb. 4, 2011 — something Postal Service official have denied.

Following his exposure to the chemicals, which Lill said were leaking from a package from Yemen, Lill moved into his mother’s home in Rochester, N.Y., where he is bedridden. Lill’s doctors say his debilitating symptoms, which include extreme fatigue, tremors, and liver and neurological problems, are consistent with exposure to a neurotoxin.

To identify the chemicals that Lill was exposed to, doctors need to examine the package he handled. And USPS officials haven’t been willing to help locate that package, saying that the incident Lill describes never occurred.

On May 19, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle — one of FCIR’s media partners for this story — updated readers about Lill. “He’s no closer to knowing the name of any chemicals he may have been exposed to,” Democrat and Chronicle reporter Meaghan M. McDermott wrote, adding:

In an effort to force action, Lill in February filed a $20 million claim against the Postal Service under the federal Tort Claims Act.

His attorney, Dennis Clary of Lewiston, Niagara County, said the Postal Service has done nothing but stonewall his client, potentially causing him continuing and greater injury.

“To be treated for toxic exposure, you need to know what toxin you were exposed to, and Jeff’s never been told,” said Clary.

He said the Postal Service has six months to either accept or deny the tort claim. If the agency denies it, Clary said he will file a civil suit in federal court.

“I’m prepared to shove this thing down someone’s throat if I have to,” he said. “This is disgusting. One of those things you just can’t allow to go on this way.”

Last year, following FCIR’s story about Lill, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration launched an investigation, which relied primarily on information from the Postal Service. That investigation did not turn up information that Lill’s family could use to identify the potential toxic substances.

Read FCIR’s story about Lill or listen to the companion radio report from WUSF 89.7 News: