- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 30, 2002

The estimated cost of ridding the Brentwood Road mail facility of anthrax spores is rising as officials struggle to overcome technical difficulties that have delayed the cleanup.

The U.S. Postal Service originally estimated the cleanup cost between $20 million and $30 million, but officials yesterday said the final cost will be "considerably higher" because of extra preparations to ready the huge building in Northeast for chlorine dioxide fumigation.

Revelations last month that the final cost of the anthrax cleanup at the Hart Senate Office Building was nearly double the original estimate by the Environmental Protection Agency do not bode well for the Brentwood cleanup.

In March, the estimated cost of the Hart cleanup was $23 million and rising, prompting a senior member of the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees to investigate. Sen. Charles E. Grassely, Iowa Republican, has since obtained documentation from the EPA that the Hart cleanup cost $41.7 million.

The Hart cleanup succeeded with the EPA contracting technicians to fumigate sections of the nine-story building, which was deemed anthrax-free and reopened in December.

But the Hart building is less than half the size of Brentwood, which postal officials say will remain closed until spring at the earliest.

Brentwood was contaminated with anthrax spores in September 2001, when anthrax-tainted letters to Democratic Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick J. Leahy passed through it.

The 17-million-cubic-foot center recently was renamed the Joseph Curseen Jr. and Thomas Morris Jr. Processing and Distribution Center in honor of the two postal workers who died of inhalation anthrax contracted there.

Last week it underwent its second test fumigation since September, and postal officials say they are awaiting word from the EPA on whether the test succeeded.

"Until they give us the word, that's all we can do," postal spokesman Gerry Krienkamp said yesterday.

The fumigation will involve pumping chlorine dioxide into the building, and the EPA must issue an order for the toxic gas to be used in a public place. When handled properly, the chemical is a powerful disinfectant. Chlorine dioxide, which is used widely as a bleaching agent in the paper industry, can be lethal if breathed in heavy doses.

In September, postal officials hailed as a success a test fumigation at Brentwood that the EPA later deemed a failure. The most recent test of the sealed building was delayed earlier this month after cracks were found in air hoses that would carry the chlorine dioxide into the building.

Last week, a test was briefly delayed again when a fumigation team had to repair a blown fuse, replace a chemical supply pump and seal leaking air vents around the building, postal officials said.

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