The District’s central mail-sorting facility on Brentwood Road NE which was heavily contaminated with anthrax spores in October is still weeks away from reopening, the city’s top health official said yesterday.
“I don’t know what I am talking about when it comes to time, but what I do know is the focus of the [D.C.] Health Department is public health and public safety,” Health Director Ivan C.A. Walks said, declining to give any specifics on when the building would reopen.
Dr. Walks said the reopening is still several weeks off.
As part of the ongoing evaluation of Brentwood’s condition, local postal managers and Dr. Walks yesterday met with officials from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to discuss options for decontaminating the facility.
Nothing has yet been done to make the facility safe for postal workers to return to the site, where two employees died of inhalation anthrax last year.
Of particular interest to the officials is the decontamination procedure under way at the Hart Senate Office Building, which also has been closed since October, when a letter filled with the deadly spores was opened in Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle’s suite of offices.
Officials have experimented with various decontamination methods. The latest attempt, completed last weekend, included spraying the building with chlorine dioxide gas. The Hart building could open as early as this month.
“We need to learn the lessons learned from the Hart building,” said Jerry Kreienkamp, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service. “Clearly, we are being as careful and deliberative [as we can] to make sure it gets done right. Haste makes waste.”
Dr. Walks agreed, but said the two facilities are very different, and so the cleanup efforts could ultimately be different as well.
Dr. Walks said the health department and the Postal Service in coming weeks will hold “community meetings” with those affected by anthrax at Brentwood. Officials will present what will likely be the final decision as to how to decontaminate the facility. However, residents would have the chance to offer input into whatever solution is decided upon.
“We want the people to be able to get the information in advance, and we will have scientists on hand to answer any of their questions,” Dr. Walks said.
The Brentwood facility had served as the main postal-sorting facility for the District until it was closed owing to anthrax contamination.
Thousands of pieces of mail including electric and water bills, and unemployment and Social Security checks were held for weeks while anthrax spores were irradiated.
It was eventually delivered; currently, there is no mail at the Brentwood facility.
Since the anthrax scare began in October, the Postal Service has tested 279 facilities nationwide for traces of the deadly virus, 21 of which tested positive for “at least trace amounts of anthrax,” Mr. Kreienkamp said.
All but two the Brentwood facility and a post office in Trenton, N.J. have been cleaned and reopened.
Guy Taylor contributed to this report.