Local and federal authorities say they will know by the middle of this month if the fumigation of anthrax spores in the District’s mail processing center on Brentwood Road NE has been a success.
Analysts are conducting tests on thousands of anthrax spore strips left inside the Brentwood building during the fumigation two weeks ago, said U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman Kristin Krathwohl.
Cleaning and reopening Brentwood, which closed in October 2001 after two postal employees who worked there died of anthrax infection, could help to bring a slice of closure to the biological attacks.
Federal law enforcement authorities have chased thousands of leads in the 15-month-old investigation into the origin of the anthrax-tainted letters, but no suspects have been named.
The attacks left five persons dead along the East Coast, including the two Brentwood workers, who contracted inhalation anthrax after the center processed two contaminated letters bound for senators on Capitol Hill.
Brentwood has been renamed in honor of the two fallen postal workers, Joseph Curseen Jr. and Thomas Morris Jr.
On Dec. 14, the Postal Service pumped 2 tons of chlorine dioxide through the 17.5-million-cubic-foot building. Once the gas was removed, cleanup crews began removing the more than 8,000 anthrax spore strips.
Mrs. Krathwohl said the strips have been sent to laboratories certified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine whether the anthrax on them experienced any growth after the fumigation.
The test results will be reviewed by a scientific committee led by Dr. Vincent R. Nathan of the D.C. Department of Health and Jack Kelly of the Environmental Protection Agency. The committee then will make a recommendation on whether Brentwood is safe to be reopened.
The Postal Service has estimated that the total cost of cleaning Brentwood and other postal facilities in Trenton, N.J., where the anthrax-tainted letters were sent, has exceeded $100 million.
Meanwhile, federal law enforcement authorities on Dec. 20 completed a search of a pond and a small wooded area in Frederick, Md., believed to be related to the ongoing investigation of the attacks.
The FBI has declined to comment on the search, beyond issuing a statement confirming that it had taken place within the city of Frederick.
The Frederick News-Post reported that the search was prompted by a tip to law enforcement officials that lab equipment used in the anthrax attacks might have been dumped into the pond.
The Justice Department and FBI declined to comment on whether any evidence was gleaned from the search, during which agents reportedly carved large rectangular holes in the surface of the frozen pond before climbing into the icy water and dredging for clues.
The search briefly renewed interest in Stephen J. Hatfill, a former scientist at the Army Medical Research Institute at Fort Detrick, whose apartment in Frederick was searched by FBI agents several times last year.
Mr. Hatfill, a self-proclaimed anthrax expert who has written a novel about an anthrax attack on Washington, repeatedly has denied any involvement in the attacks.
On two occasions last year, he held news conferences during which he criticized the FBI’s treatment of him, saying the agency had “ruined” his life.
Justice Department officials yesterday said Mr. Hatfill remains a “person of interest” in the investigation.