- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2002

Congressional officials say the Hart Senate Office Building, which has been closed since Oct. 17 because of anthrax contamination, could be reopened by the middle of this month.

The Hart building closed down two days after an anthrax-laced letter was opened in Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office on the building's fifth floor. The building houses offices for half of the U.S. Senate's 100 members.

On Sunday morning, Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, told NBC's "Meet the Press" that the fumigation of the heating and ventilation (HVAC) system surrounding his office was "very effective."

"I think that there's a reasonable possibility that we'll see the building open some time in the early part of [January], perhaps as early as next week," he said.

Environmental Protection Agency officials say they will know within a week whether the latest fumigation effort in the building's HVAC system successfully killed lingering anthrax spores.

Meanwhile, fewer than 100 people have opted for the experimental anthrax vaccine out of thousands eligible, although federal health officials say more than 800 are taking additional antibiotics.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made the vaccine available two weeks ago because animal studies suggested that anthrax could lurk in the body for more than 60 days, causing fatal infections after the original course of antibiotics was completed.

Four dozen Capitol Hill workers received the first vaccinations on Dec. 20. Since then, another 49 persons mostly postal workers in Washington, New York, New Jersey and Florida have been vaccinated, CDC and U.S. Postal Service figures showed yesterday.

In addition to vaccine recipients, the CDC counted another 846 persons who opted for 40 additional days of antibiotics. People have until Jan. 7 to decide whether to take either measure.

Of the 11 confirmed inhalation anthrax cases, five persons have died an editor at a newspaper in Florida, two D.C. postal workers, a New York hospital worker and an elderly Connecticut widow.

The fumigation of the Hart building, which was completed yesterday had been delayed by technical problems.

On Friday evening, technicians began filling portions of the HVAC system with chlorine dioxide gas. They used steam to elevate the humidity to 75 percent, the level required for the gas to successfully destroy any lingering anthrax spores.

"The fumigation process of the HVAC system for the Daschle office suite was completed at about 2 a.m. [Monday morning]," EPA spokeswoman Jennifer Browne said. "We'll get test results back determining whether or not it worked within the next week We're taking every step possible to get the building open," she added.

The U.S. Postal Service said yesterday that as early as Jan. 15 technicians could begin using chlorine dioxide to decontaminate the District's central mail processing center on Brentwood Road NE.

Brentwood, which processed the Daschle letter and another anthrax-filled letter to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, has been closed since Oct. 21, when two of its postal workers died of inhalation anthrax.

"We're awaiting the final results of the cleanup at the Hart building," Postal Service spokeswoman Deborah Yackley said. "If it turns out that things come out good there, we'll be putting in place a contract to repeat the fumigation process in Brentwood."

Asked how long the postal operations in the District could continue service without Brentwood, Mrs. Yackley said, "I suppose we could go on forever, but we definitely do need a distribution plant in Washington."

Mail that would have been sorted at Brentwood has been rerouted for the last two months to several postal stations in Southern Maryland. Congressional mail is being handled at an overflow warehouse on V Street in Northeast, Miss Yackley said.

Elsewhere, postal employees in New York apparently ignored the urging of their union and reported to work in normal numbers yesterday at a Manhattan mail facility where anthrax traces were discovered on a sorting machine last week.

The sorting machine previously had been infected and cleaned. It was shut down late last week for more cleaning and expected to be idle about a week, Postal Service spokeswoman Diane Todd said.

William Smith, the president of the New York Metro Area Postal Union, on Saturday urged workers at the Morgan Processing and Distribution Center not to return to work until the extent of contamination was known.

However, there was no sign yesterday that workers were following Mr. Smith's advice, Postal Service spokeswoman Pat McGovern said.

The Morgan center, on Manhattan's west side, handles 12.5 million pieces of mail a day and has 5,500 employees.

Traces of the lethal bacteria were found on five mail-sorting machines at the center in October. All were decontaminated and repeatedly tested, with no problems until a Dec. 23 test on one machine came back positive, officials said.

No anthrax cases have been confirmed among New York postal workers, but four cases of skin anthrax were blamed on mail that passed through the Morgan center.

Mr. Smith said a Postal Service offer of anthrax vaccine to Morgan workers on Thursday was evidence that it knew the facility was still contaminated.

Miss Todd denied any connection between the latest anthrax discovery and the vaccine offering.

"That is provided by the Centers for Disease Control and it has nothing to do with this," she said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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