- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 4, 2001

The Environmental Protection Agency yesterday said it will take at least five days to find out whether a toxic gas used to kill anthrax in the Senate Hart Office Building actually worked.
During the weekend, chlorine dioxide was pumped into the office suite of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, where an anthrax-filled letter was opened on Oct. 14.
If it turns out the gas was successful, U.S. postal authorities say it soon "will be the method" to decontaminate the District's central mail center on Brentwood Road, which processed the Daschle letter and another anthrax-filled letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy.
"It will be five to seven days before we get back the test results from inside the Daschle suite," said Richard Rupert, the EPA's on-site coordinator at the Hart building.
Hart has been closed since the Daschle letter was opened. When it will reopen was not clear yesterday. The EPA and the Coast Guard have worked together to speed up the decontamination effort, Mr. Rupert said.
"I hope to have my work done here by Christmas," he said. "Having all of the anthrax out by then would be my present to the U.S. Capitol."
Mr. Daschle's suite, still intact with computers and scattered papers, was sealed off Friday with duct tape and plastic sheets so the chlorine dioxide could be pumped in.
Before the fumigation, about 3,000 Band-Aid-sized test strips, each treated with bacteria believed to be stronger than anthrax, were placed throughout the suite.
Technicians have since collected the strips to determine whether the gas killed the bacteria on them, he said. If none survived the fumigation, it follows that anthrax in the suite also was killed.
That will be enough to persuade scientists to use chlorine dioxide to decontaminate the District's central mail processing center on Brentwood Road, the Postal Service said yesterday.
"If it was successful in Hart, it will be the method we use to clean Brentwood, and we will implement it as soon as we can," Postal Service spokeswoman Deborah Yackley said.
Brentwood, which processed the Daschle and Leahy letters, has been sealed off since Oct. 21, when two employees there died of inhalation anthrax. Environmental tests found anthrax spores on at least six mail-sorting machines inside Brentwood, the Postal Service said.
Early last month, the Postal Service opened a temporary mail-sorting center in a warehouse at 3070 V St. NE to handled mail coming into the District that would have gone to Brentwood. The V Street facility does not have a customer-service counter.
Mr. Rupert said it was likely there would be a push to use the gas to decontaminate Brentwood, but he's "not sure if it could be used successfully in that space."
"It's a very large facility," he said. "That's a substantial difference from the Daschle suite."
The District's top health official, Dr. Ivan C.A. Walks, said "Brentwood is a different environment and a different situation. It's a huge building.
"We'll wait for the results from the Hart building and evaluate the situation then," he said. "People work in Brentwood, and we want to ensure that whatever cleanup we use is safe."
Meanwhile, in Connecticut, new tests have turned up traces of anthrax at a postal distribution center that sorts mail for a town where a 94-year-old widow died of the disease last month.
Anthrax traces found at a facility in Wallingford, Conn., are enough to label the death of Ottilie Lundgren a case of cross-contamination from the mail, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson said yesterday.
"It's definitely cross-contamination," Mr. Thompson said.
"Part of the mystery's been solved, but at the same time I'm concerned about the cross-contamination because you can't see these little buggers, and where's the next cross-contamination going to take place?"
The anthrax was found on four sorting machines, where workers sort about 3 million pieces of mail daily for southern Connecticut.
The machines most likely were contaminated when an anthrax-tainted letter destined for a neighbor of Mrs. Lundgren passed through the sorting facility on Oct. 11, according to Jon Steele, vice president of the Postal Service's northeast area operations.
On Friday, officials announced the discovery of that letter, which contained a single spore of anthrax. Investigators have not found any link between Mrs. Lundgren and the letter.
"This [latest] finding is not a complete surprise," Mr. Steele said. "The public should not be panicked by trace elements occurring nearly 60 days ago."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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