- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 24, 2002

An Environmental Protection Agency ombudsman told The Washington Times yesterday that the toxic chemical gas used to fumigate the anthrax-contaminated Hart Building could pose a long-term health threat to senators and congressional staffers returning to work there.
The cleanup of the building also could have been accomplished for less money using safer, nonchemical treatments, according to a memo circulated to members of Congress by EPA National Ombudsman Robert J. Martin.
Mr. Martin, pressed by reports that the Senate Finance Committee is investigating why it cost the EPA more than $14 million to rid the Hart building of anthrax, yesterday launched an independent investigation of the agency's handling of the cleanup effort.
He has requested that Elaine Davies, director of the EPA Office of Emergency and Remedial Response, and Thomas Voltaggio, the agency's Region III deputy regional administrator, provide by Friday an explanation of tests and any other actions that were taken to assure that no chemical contaminants were present in the air at the Hart building prior to the fumigation.
Mr. Martin, an appointee of the first Bush administration who has bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, has led investigations of more than 35 cases during his tenure with the EPA. Some EPA officials say that after more than 80 percent of those investigations, the agency changed its policies because of his recommendations.
The Hart building closed Oct. 17, after an anthrax-tainted letter was opened in the office suite of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. The EPA spent nearly $150,000 a day through December, hiring private contractors to execute the experimental chemical fumigation of areas in the building known to be contaminated with anthrax spores.
During the fumigation, technicians pumped toxic chlorine dioxide gas into Mr. Daschle's office and the ventilation ducts in the walls surrounding the office. It took three attempts to fumigate the areas effectively. Work crews also wiped off desks, walls and other surfaces, and performed spot applications of chlorine dioxide liquid and an antibacterial foam.
"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 from off-gassing and spontaneous chemical reactions could be in the air for a significant period of time these types of materials pose a potential serious health risk," Mr. Martin said in the memo.
Also in the memo a copy of which was obtained by The Times Mr. Martin said that as early as Nov. 16 and again on Nov. 30, he wrote to EPA Administrator Christie Whitman to point out that non-chemical treatment at the Hart building "could be less expensive, more effective, and would not create the health risks inherent in use of chlorine dioxide."
In a telephone interview yesterday, Hugh Kaufman, the chief investigator for Mr. Martin, said, "Based on anecdotal information, I suspect they've not done sufficient testing of the air in the building since the fumigation." He added that a second concern of the ombudsman is that "there are nonchemical technologies that are cheaper than chlorine dioxide that have been used in the pharmaceutical and electronics industries to clean contaminated rooms."
Mr. Martin said his investigation was tipped off yesterday by newspaper reports that the Hart building, which reopened at noon Tuesday, had an odor, and that there have been complaints of sore throats and headache upon entry into the building.
Further, some members of Congress are concerned that the rising cost of the Hart building's cleanup may indicate a misuse of funds by the EPA.
In a letter posted Friday to Mrs. Whitman, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, a ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, sought accountability for the high costs.
In the letter, Mr. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said Mrs. Whitman's recent attempt to eliminate the job held by Mr. Martin, a lawyer who is a graduate of the George Washington University law school, sparked his interested in investigating the high cleanup costs. "Trying to eliminate this position gives the appearance of attempting to silence a critic," he said.
Mr. Grassley said yesterday that he appreciates the ombudsman's interest in "whether the chlorine dioxide gas used in the Hart building anthrax cleanup poses any health problems for returning workers."
"I asked the EPA and the Senate sergeant at arms to respond to me by this Friday with details of the cost of the Hart building cleanup," Mr. Grassley said. "I anticipate a complete response. If that doesn't come, I'll ask the EPA ombudsman to investigate the cleanup cost."
Officials in the office of the EPA administrator yesterday did not return phone calls from The Washington Times.
Meanwhile, federal authorities yesterday doubled the reward to $2.5 million for information leading to the arrest of the sender of the four anthrax-tainted letters they have in their possession. The four letters were sent to NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, the New York Post, Mr. Daschle and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat. A fifth letter that went to a Florida publisher was destroyed before anyone realized the anthrax atack was under way.
The FBI said fliers, which include pictures of the anthrax-tainted envelopes, will be sent to more than 500,000 people in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Special agent Kevin Donovan said his agency is "reaching out" to the general public to ensure there are no more victims to the anthrax attacks. "I don't believe this person is as elusive as the Unabomber," he said.

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