- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2002

The headaches, sore throats and burning eyes in the Hart Senate Office Building aren't the result of irradiated mail, a Senate task force told senators and their chiefs of staff during a private briefing yesterday, according to sources who attended the briefing.
Instead, representatives from the Legislative Mail Task Force say it is flu season and the symptoms being complained about by more than 70 congressional staffers are likely the result of the flu or the common cold.
The task force was set up last week by the office of Senate Sergeant at Arms Alfonso Lenhardt after Sen. Dianne Feinstein wrote to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle that members of her staff were suffering the symptoms.
Mrs. Feinstein, California Democrat, has since hired a team of nongovernment scientists to perform environmental tests in her suite inside the Hart building. The scientists, from the University of California, conducted tests yesterday, said Howard Gantman, Mrs. Feinstein's spokesman.
The Hart building, which houses offices for half of the U.S. Senate's 100 members, was closed in October after an anthrax-tainted letter was opened in Mr. Daschle's fifth-floor office suite.
During the cleanup, technicians contracted by the Environmental Protection Agency used chlorine dioxide liquid and gas to eliminate the lingering anthrax spores in the building.
Several workers complained that their eyes were burning and that there was a strong chlorine odor in the building when it reopened Jan. 22.
Many of those who have complained about the symptoms have been treated at the Capitol Physician's Office, which has been monitoring the health of congressional staffers since the reopening. Repeated phone calls to the office were not returned yesterday.
EPA Ombudsman Robert J. Martin said he believes contaminants such as hydrochloric acid resulting from spontaneous chemical reactions when technicians liberally spread the chlorine dioxide through the building are causing the headaches and burning eyes. During the past week, he repeatedly has recommended the EPA immediately begin "a comprehensive environmental-testing program" to identify the contaminants.
But agency spokesman Joe Martyak says the symptoms are "not being caused by byproducts of chlorine dioxide liquid or gas" that was used during the cleanup and that substantial testing already was done "during and before the time that chlorine dioxide was used to eliminate lingering anthrax spores, and no chlorine gas or other compounds were detected."
"This past weekend, we did further testing, and again we found no chlorine," Mr. Martyak said, adding that the flu or common-cold theory about the symptoms is probably accurate. "We've all had colds here," he said.
Richard Rupert, the EPA's on-scene coordinator for the Hart cleanup, said, "My understanding is that less than 100 people have complained about the symptoms . I can tell you they are not being caused by chlorine dioxide."


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