- The Washington Times - Friday, July 26, 2002

The U.S. Postal Service on Monday will fumigate a small, airtight section of its Brentwood Road facility to determine if the entire mail-processing plant is ready to be decontaminated after being shut down because of anthrax exposure in October.

Chlorine dioxide gas will be pumped for 12 hours into a 21,000-cubic-foot section of the Northeast building, sealed by a tentlike structure, beginning Monday at 9 a.m.

Chemical engineers will evaluate the ability of the delivery system to sustain the required level of gas, as well as their ability to maintain appropriate temperature and humidity levels throughout the process.

A scientific survey team organized by the D.C. Department of Health will analyze test results after the seven to 10 days it will take for the data to return from a laboratory. The survey team will submit its findings to a clearance committee that will determine if the decontamination can continue.

If this test yields positive results, the cleanup of the entire 17.5-million-cubic-foot facility could begin as early as mid-August.

Safety will come first, said Dr. Ted Gordon, the health department's senior deputy director. "We're not going to rush on this," he said. "We're going to do this right."

Dr. Gordon said a team of volunteers will go door to door this weekend to inform area residents about the procedure.

"We feel that the risk is very low, but that the community has a right to know what we are doing," he said. "We want to make sure that there is no risk to the community. That is our first priority."

In addition to the airtight seal, air monitors will be used outside the building to ensure that there are no gas leaks. A telephone number (800/527-0741) has been set up for residents with questions and will be in operation starting Monday morning.

"We think we have a very good, fail-safe program in place," said Dr. Gordon.

A public field hearing will be held today at 10 a.m. on the campus of Gallaudet University to allow residents and postal workers to voice concerns and get an update from health specialists on the cleanup.

The Washington Times first reported in March that liability disputes between waste-management contractors and the Postal Service have delayed the beginning of the fumigation. Companies being hired for the job don't want to be held liable if traces of anthrax are found or if people in Brentwood contract anthrax after the cleanup is completed, The Times reported.

Two Brentwood workers from Maryland Thomas Morris Jr. of Suitland and Joseph Curseen Jr. of Clinton died from inhalation of anthrax after a tainted letter mailed to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle passed through the facility in October.


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