- The Washington Times - Friday, January 18, 2002

Plans to reopen the Hart Senate Office Building were again delayed after officials found a bag of protective gear crammed into a ceiling near the office where an anthrax-laced letter was opened more than three months ago.

U.S. Capitol Police Lt. Dan Nichols said preliminary tests on the gear, which included gloves and other equipment for handling hazardous materials such as anthrax, showed no evidence of the deadly bacteria.

The building's reopening is on hold until more conclusive results are available, he said, adding that 25 workers who were cleaning in the area where the gear was found have been given preventive antibiotics.

Several rooms in the basement of the Dirksen Senate Office Building, where the workers were taken after the gear was found late Wednesday, also have been closed until the final environmental tests come back.

The Hart building was shut down Oct. 17 after an anthrax-laden letter was opened in Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office on the fifth floor. The building houses offices for half of the U.S. Senate's 100 members.

Scientists believe the letter sent to Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, contained billions of anthrax spores. It was discovered as anthrax was detected in dozens of locations around the District, New York and elsewhere, causing five fatalities and a national focus on bioterrorism.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday had announced that the Hart building was "safe for reoccupancy" and would be open for "normal business" today.

But work crews hustling on Wednesday to ready the building for reopening found the bag in the ceiling outside Mr. Daschle's office, where hazardous-material technicians had been working last month during an experimental fumigation effort.

Lt. Nichols said there was probably a reasonable explanation for why the gear was in the ceiling.

"There had been some workmen up there in the ceiling during the fumigation of the office," Lt. Nichols said. "When they went to finish cleaning the area sweep up, dust and check that bathrooms were working they found the gear."

During the fumigation, crews pumped chlorine dioxide gas into Mr. Daschle's office and the ventilation ducts in the walls surrounding the office. It took three attempts to effectively fumigate the areas. Work crews also vacuumed the floor; wiped off desks, walls and other surfaces; and did spot applications of chlorine dioxide liquid and an antibacterial foam to rid the building of lingering anthrax spores.

Congressional staffers normally assigned to the Hart building have been working in small offices throughout Capitol Hill since mid-October.

"This is an honest mistake that will hopefully only delay the opening for a short period of time," said one of Mr. Daschle's aides. "We still look forward to moving back in when it finally opens."

There have been 11 confirmed cases of inhalation anthrax since last October. Five persons have died: an editor at a tabloid newspaper in Florida, two D.C. postal workers, a New York hospital worker and an elderly Connecticut widow.

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