- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 11, 2002

U.S. Postal Service officials yesterday said the District's central processing center on Brentwood Road NE will be fumigated by Aug. 6, more than seven months after it had been contaminated by anthrax spores.
Local business owners said authorities are doing a poor job of informing the public about the timing, progress and dangers of the anthrax cleanup at the massive mail-sorting facility, which poses an immense challenge for fumigators using deadly chlorine dioxide gas.
"I hope the people doing the cleanup over there have done enough to protect the air around here from getting contaminated with all those chemicals they use," said Reese "Shorty" Johnson, owner of M&G; Motors at Ninth and V streets NE, across the street from Brentwood.
"Nobody's come around and informed me about anything," the mechanic said. "Most of the things I know about what's going on over there I've read in the newspaper."
Postal officials and chemical engineers have blamed delays in the Brentwood cleanup on the building's mammoth size about 200,000 square feet. Some private-sector scientists say filling an area that large with a thick fog of chlorine dioxide will be extremely dangerous.
The Washington Times first reported in March that liability disputes between waste-management contractors and the Postal Service have added to the delay. 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.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's offices, which were contaminated about the same time as the Brentwood facility, measure about 3,000 square feet. His suite of offices in the Hart Senate Office Building was fumigated and reopened in January, and the Environmental Protection Agency has assumed liability for the cleanup.
Brentwood, where an anthrax-laced letter to Mr. Daschle was processed, was closed Oct. 21 after two postal workers there had died of inhalation anthrax. The letter was opened Oct. 15 in Mr. Daschle's office.
The Postal Service has secured contracts totaling more than $2.4 million with Kentucky-based Ashland Inc. and Texas-based Sabre Oxidation Technologies to fill Brentwood with a dense cloud of chlorine dioxide gas, a technique that destroyed spores in the Hart building. Both companies were involved in the Hart cleanup.
During the past several months the two companies have made Brentwood airtight for fumigation. A 200-foot-long, 5-foot-diameter silver tube, to pump in the gas, has been sealed in the side of the building.
Postal Service spokeswoman Deborah Yackley said the dates of the fumigation, expected to take about 48 hours, have not been decided.
"We intend to do it on a Saturday and Sunday to have the least effect on businesses in the area," she said, adding that postal officials have tried to keep the public informed about the matter.
"We have gone around and talked to all the businesses person-to-person within the last six weeks," Miss Yackley said. "We basically told them we're getting ready to do the cleanup."
Lee Wells, owner of Pal Liquors, is directly across the street from Brentwood. "We pretty much don't know anything. It's just rumors that we're getting," he said. "It's disappointing that we're not being informed and kept up to date on how long this process is going to take."
About 700 neighborhood residents attended a March 27 meeting organized by D.C. Council member Vincent Orange to discuss progress of the cleanup. Many voiced frustrations about not being kept informed.
Mr. Orange, Ward 5 Democrat, was unavailable to comment yesterday. Staffers in his office said he is in communication with the Postal Service and plans to host two community meetings before the end of June.
Miss Yackley said "it could be quite some time" before the cleanup is final. After the fumigation, health officials from the District, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will conduct tests to ensure that the building is free of anthrax.
"Then it will be aired out, and redone with new carpeting and other reparations," she said. "We have no idea how long that's actually going to take."
When Brentwood closed, some D.C. mail-sorting moved to a warehouse in Northeast. Much of the sorting and distribution was picked up by postal facilities in Southern Maryland, where Brentwood employees are working temporarily. The shift caused delays in mail delivery in the District, with many Washingtonians saying they got mail this year with October and November postmarks.


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