The Environmental Protection Agency won’t do any new tests in the Hart Senate Office Building for toxic chemicals left over from the anthrax cleanup, despite reports that congressional staffers handling mail in the building are suffering headaches, skin rashes and burning eyes.
EPA National Ombudsman Robert J. Martin recommended on Wednesday that the agency begin “a comprehensive environmental testing program” to identify contaminants that might still be in the building.
Mr. Martin believes contaminants, including hydrochloric acid, resulted from spontaneous chemical reactions when technicians used chlorine dioxide to kill anthrax in the building and that they are the cause of the symptoms being described by congressional staffers.
“With the use of tremendous quantities of chlorine dioxide gas on at least three different occasions far in excess of lethal doses, it is expected that chlorine dioxide and hydrochloric acid, as well as other potential contaminants could be in the air for a significant period of time pose[ing] a potential serious health risk,” Mr. Martin said last week.
But EPA spokesman Joe Martyak told The Washington Times yesterday that the symptoms are “absolutely not being caused by byproducts of chlorine dioxide liquid or gas that was used to clean the building.”
“I would really like, at some point, for somebody to ask the ombudsman what scientific proof his allegations are based on,” Mr. Martyak said in a telephone interview.
During the cleanup, technicians pumped chlorine dioxide gas into the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, where an anthrax-tainted letter was opened in October. The gas also was pumped into the ventilation ducts in the walls surrounding the office. Additionally, work crews wiped off desks, walls and other surfaces, and performed spot applications of chlorine dioxide liquid.
Thomas C. Voltaggio, a deputy regional EPA administrator, said substantial testing had been done during and before the time the toxic chemical was spread liberally about the Hart building to eliminate lingering anthrax spores.
Before unprotected workers re-entered the building Jan. 22, “air monitoring was performed throughout [the building],” Mr. Voltaggio said in a letter sent Thursday to Mr. Martin.
Mr. Martin’s recommendation for further testing came after Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said her chief of staff got a burning sensation on his hands when he went through his mail, and her office manager complained of eye, nose and throat irritation, as well as headaches and a metallic taste in her mouth. Additionally, the Roll Call newspaper reported that more than 100 staffers experienced similar symptoms and that one staffer experienced bleeding from an ear.
The U.S. Postal Service has repeatedly said the symptoms are not being caused by the irradiation of government mail a security measure applied after the anthrax attacks.
The symptoms being described by congressional staffers are exactly what would happen to persons who repeatedly came into contact with high levels of chlorine or bleach, said Hugh B. Kaufman, Mr. Martin’s chief investigator.
But Mr. Voltaggio said that “no chlorine gas or other chlorine compounds were detected” during tests done by the EPA after the cleanup.