- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2002

U.S. Postal Service officials say chemical fumigation will kill lingering anthrax spores that have kept the District's Brentwood mail-processing center closed for more than five months.
However, the $35 million fumigation of the 17.5 million-cubic-foot mail facility in Northeast won't begin for several months and will "continue for as long as needed to make the building safe," officials told reporters at a news conference yesterday.
"No one goes back to work until the building has been cleaned and proven to have been cleaned," said Thomas G. Day, the vice president of engineering at the Postal Service.
Brentwood, which in early October processed the anthrax-contaminated letter to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, closed on Oct. 21 after two postal workers died of inhalation anthrax.
The Daschle letter was opened Oct. 14 in the senator's office in the Hart Senate Office Building. That building and others on Capitol Hill were cleaned of anthrax spores and reopened by Jan. 22, but substantial progress on the Brentwood cleanup has been absent.
Contracts are now being finalized with companies that will pump chlorine dioxide gas into Brentwood to kill any remaining anthrax spores, said Dennis M. Baca, head of environmental management for the Postal Service.
"We're going to deliver the chlorine dioxide through the building's HVAC system to get the full air dispersion," Mr. Baca said. "Most of the contamination in Brentwood is in the air."
The process, which takes about 24 hours, is the same as that used to clean the Hart building, where technicians pumped chlorine dioxide into the office suite of Mr. Daschle and into the ventilation ducts of the walls around the office.
It took three tries before the Hart fumigation was deemed successful by the Environmental Protection Agency, and Mr. Baca said the Postal Service has learned from mistakes made during that cleanup, particularly about the need to reach the proper volume of the gas inside the area being fumigated.
To kill all lingering anthrax spores, the gas needs to become like a thick fog inside Brentwood, reaching a level of 75 percent humidity. To achieve this, teams of technicians wearing airtight suits entered Brentwood through an enclosed doorway over the last few months to tape all the windows, put putty in wall cracks and seal all doorways.
Mr. Baca said technicians will soon place 3,000 test strips throughout the building, many hanging from the ceiling. The strips are treated with a harmless bacteria more resilient than anthrax and will be collected after the fumigation to make sure the bacteria are killed.
Since Brentwood closed, some of the District's mail-sorting operations have been moved into a warehouse at 3070 V St. NE.
Most of the mail is being sorted and distributed from other facilities in Southern Maryland, where Brentwood employees have been put to work.
Local post office managers have said without Brentwood, the mail coming into their stations is largely unsorted a problem causing significant delays in mail delivery, particularly over the holidays. Many Washingtonians last month were receiving mail with October and November postmarks.
The Washington Times reported two weeks ago that one of the hurdles delaying the Brentwood cleanup was liability disputes between waste-management contractors and the Postal Service. Companies being hired for the job don't want to be held liable if traces of anthrax are found or if persons in Brentwood contract anthrax after the cleanup is completed, sources familiar with the contracts said.
The EPA spent more than $23 million on contracts with the companies that cleaned anthrax spores out of buildings on Capitol Hill, including the Hart building. All of the companies were fully indemnified.
The largest contract for that cleanup went to the Trenton, N.J.-based IT Corp. It was paid $4.75 million to assist the work and subcontract smaller companies involved in the effort. IT Corp. is now working on the Brentwood cleanup.
The Postal Service yesterday declined to comment on the issue of liability.
Another problem delaying the Brentwood cleanup is the building's mammoth proportions. Experts say Brentwood's size about 500,000 square feet, compared with Mr. Daschle's 3,000-square-foot office suite makes using chlorine dioxide difficult and dangerous.
A public meeting on the cleanup and safety issues is being held tonight by D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr., Ward 5 Democrat, at 1301 Rhode Island Ave. NE.


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