- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 7, 2002

The total bill for cleaning anthrax out of the Hart Senate Office Building and other buildings on Capitol Hill hit $23 million this week, and the Environmental Protection Agency says the cost will only continue to rise.
"That's a lot of money," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, a ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, who began officially investigating the high cleanup cost more than a month ago after the EPA announced the cost was estimated to exceed $14 million.
Mr. Grassley was dissatisfied yesterday when he received the agency's delayed response to his Jan. 18 request for a list of the private contracts issued by the EPA during the cleanup of the Hart Building, which reopened on Jan. 22.
In a letter posted Tuesday to Mr. Grassley, EPA Assistant Administrator Marianne L. Horinko said the Hart building is part of the "Capitol Hill Anthrax Site, which encompasses over thirty buildings."
Cleanup work continues at buildings on Capitol Hill other than Hart, and the EPA has "obligated over $23 million for this effort against an approved ceiling of $25 million," Miss Horinko wrote. Congress appropriated the money to be used specifically for nationwide anthrax-related costs during the 2002 fiscal year.
The final Capitol Hill cleanup cost will remain unknown until all of the work is completed and the EPA receives the bills from all the contractors who worked on the cleanup, Miss Horinko wrote. "We hope to know the final costs for the project by June 2002."
Mr. Grassley said his frustration with the EPA's response to his request stems primarily from the lack of specific information about the Hart building cleanup. "Unfortunately, the EPA's response is so lacking in context and answers to all my questions that it's difficult for the taxpayers to judge whether their money was used properly," the senator said in a statement yesterday.
"The EPA's work to make the Hart building safe is important, but so is a full accounting of how the agency handled the cost. I plan to learn more about the details of this project," he said.
In January, Mr. Grassley, Iowa Republican, told The Washington Times he was particularly interested in how much was spent on the cleanup so a "benchmark" could be established for total expected spending in case the EPA is faced with future bioterrorism cleanup situations.
If it turns out money has been spent wrongly, it will be "a bit like exposing the $600 toilet seat in the Defense Department," said the senator, who uncovered the infamous expenditure during the mid-1980s.
Officials in Miss Horinko's office declined to comment on the cleanup costs yesterday. EPA spokeswoman Steffanie Bell said "certainly the cost so far is justified in ensuring public health."
The Hart building closed Oct. 17, after an anthrax-contaminated letter was opened in the fifth-floor office suite of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
The EPA spent nearly $150,000 a day through December, hiring private contractors to execute the experimental chemical fumigation of areas in the building known to be contaminated with anthrax spores.
"We're talking about up to 125 people working on the cleanup at a time, and there was work going on for 90 days, 24 hours a day," Miss Bell said. "We're also talking about using unprecedented technology to fix an unprecedented situation. Costs add up."
During the fumigation, technicians pumped toxic chlorine dioxide gas into Mr. Daschle's office and the ventilation ducts in the walls surrounding the office. It took three attempts to fumigate the areas effectively. Work crews also wiped off desks, walls and other surfaces with chlorine dioxide liquid and an antibacterial foam.
Mr. Grassley said several questions remain about the use of contractors during the cleanup, particularly whether the contractors had to meet any performance measures if there were any before receiving payment.


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