- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 30, 2002

A test fumigation of the Brentwood mail-processing facility in Northeast got off to a slow start and disrupted at least one nearby business yesterday, more than nine months after the facility was closed because of anthrax contamination.
The fumigation, scheduled to start at 9 a.m., began nearly four hours late because cleanup officials wanted to ensure that the building was airtight, said Dr. Theodore Gordon, senior deputy director for the D.C. Department of Health.
At 12:45 p.m., cleanup crews began to pump 5 pounds of toxic chlorine dioxide gas into a 29,000-cubic-foot section of the building secured with a tentlike structure over three mail-sorting machines.
The three machines are part of Line 17, the "hot spot" that processed an anthrax-tainted letter to the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, in October, and the line on which two postal employees who later died of inhalation anthrax were working.
The area will be tested again within a week to 10 days. If the effort proves successful, cleanup for the rest of the facility could begin in mid-August.
Lee Wells, who owns a liquor store across Ninth Street from the Brentwood facility, was open for less than an hour yesterday because of the fumigation.
He arrived to open his store at 9 a.m., only to find the one-way section of Ninth Street looping past his store was closed to traffic.
Mr. Wells opened his store at 11:45 a.m. but closed it around 12:30 p.m., saying business was nonexistent and that the cleanup was making him nervous.
"Their uncertainty is making me uncertain," he said of the unannounced street closing.
"Nobody's coming in. We've lost all morning traffic," said Mr. Wells, 40. "I don't want to be the one standing here when they said some gas leaked out. This business is my livelihood, and I pour everything into it. But I'd rather be alive."
Outside the U.S. Postal Service facility, a large trailer staffed by members of the city health department and the federal Environmental Protection Agency monitored the air quality with a Trace Atmospheric Gas Analyzer (TAGA), a mobile laboratory.
The TAGA, enclosed in a bus, made periodic trips through local neighborhoods during the day.
Dr. Gordon said workers in "moon suits" will enter the fumigated area late this week to collect around 900 samples to be analyzed in a lab.
When test results are returned seven to 10 days later, he said, a clearance committee headed by the health department will determine whether to go ahead with the cleanup of the entire facility.
Mr. Wells said he fears the cleanup, and the way it has been conducted, could keep foot traffic at a distance. Sales in his store have slumped by 40 percent to 50 percent since October, he said.
"Once [people] get in this area and see the yellow tape and the building, that's going to send a signal that they don't want to get any closer, and stopping is probably going to be out of the question for a lot of people," Mr. Wells said.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams toured the TAGA bus and spoke briefly with reporters, fielding questions mostly about his campaign problems.
D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange, Ward 5 Democrat, said he thinks the District's central mail-processing facility will reopen early next year.
Mr. Wells said he would like better communication from government officials.
At a public meeting last week, he said, there was no mention of closing Ninth Street.
"We had no idea that was going to take place," he said. "The lack of communication has been a big concern."
This article based in part on wire service reports.

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