A team of scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will join a Senate task force investigating worker health complaints arising from the Hart Senate Office Building anthrax cleanup, congressional sources said.
The scientists originally were asked early this week by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, to perform independent environmental testing throughout her suite in the newly reopened Hart building.
Instead, they will work directly with the Legislative Mail Task Force operating out of the office of Senate Sergeant at Arms Alfonso Lenhardt, said Howard Gantman, a spokesman for Mrs. Feinstein.
Officials with the Senate sergeant at arms did not return repeated phone calls yesterday.
The task force was formed last week after Mrs. Feinstein wrote to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, that several members of her staff were suffering headaches, burning skin and a metallic taste apparently while handling irradiated government mail.
A memorandum issued on Wednesday by Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said that “from Jan. 22 to Feb. 4, approximately 73 staff members working in all three Senate office buildings complained to the Attending Physician’s Office of headaches, skin rashes, dry mouth and eye irritation after handling irradiated mail.”
However, the U.S. Postal Service, which has sent all government mail to private contractors for irradiation as a security precaution since the anthrax attacks, has repeatedly said the irradiation process is not the cause of the symptoms.
Mr. Grassley’s memo also noted that health officials examining workers who suffered the symptoms “attributed some of the complaints to colds and flu and dry weather.”
Additionally, Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, said that 16 employees in his office had complained of headaches, burning eyes and breathing problems resulting from a “very heavy odor” of chlorine in the Hart building, which reopened on Jan. 22.
During the cleanup of the building, technicians contracted by the Environmental Protection Agency pumped chlorine dioxide gas into Mr. Daschle’s office suite where an anthrax-tainted letter was opened in October. The gas also was pumped into the ventilation ducts in the walls surrounding the office and chlorine dioxide liquid was used to wipe off desks, walls and other surfaces.
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.
“The concern is not a few symptoms being complained about right now; it’s cancer 10 or 20 years down the line from breathing carcinogenic materials in the office place,” said Mr. Martin’s chief investigator, Hugh B. Kaufman.
Richard Rupert the EPA’s on-scene coordinator for the Hart building cleanup, told The Washington Times on Wednesday that technicians have adequately tested the Hart building for lingering chemicals and found no level of chlorine that could be causing the symptoms.