- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2003

U.S. Postal Service officials said yesterday that they will reopen as early as this summer the mail facility on Brentwood Road NE, which has been closed since October 2001 after two postal workers there died of inhalation anthrax.
The $75 million-to-$100 million fumigation of anthrax spores in the 17.5-million-cubic-foot building the largest biological decontamination project in U.S. history was a success, officials said during a press conference at Postal Service headquarters in Northwest.
"My certainty that we've cleared the building of anthrax is absolute. I'm more than willing to take my own kids in there," said Thomas Day, the Postal Service's vice president of engineering.
The results of the December fumigation are being reviewed by the Environmental Clearance Committee (ECC), an independent panel of representatives of agencies involved in the cleanup, including the Postal Service and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The committee could issue within a week a decision to reopen the building, Mr. Day said, adding that 5,000 air samples from the site have tested negative for anthrax exposure.
But a spokeswoman for the American Postal Workers Union said its members will wait for details from the ECC before endorsing the reopening of the mail-sorting center, which handled 3.5 million pieces of mail a day.
"A lot of people have misgivings about returning to Brentwood, regardless of the findings. We want to do everything we can to ensure that Brentwood is indeed safe when it opens," said spokeswoman Sally Davidow.
When the facility reopens, a new detection and filtration system will be used, Mr. Day said. The system could have prevented the deaths of postal workers Thomas L. Morris Jr. and Joseph P. Curseen Jr., and could have prevented any of its 1,600 workers from being infected, he said.
The Postal Service intends to install the filtration system in all 282 automated mail-sorting centers within 13 to 14 months. Its contract with Northrop Grumman Corp. has yet to be finalized because of a disagreement on indemnification and liability.
Mr. Day said the air-tight system will alert officials about any anthrax attack within 90 minutes of the entry of spores into a facility, then convey all air through filters.
Postal Service spokesman Gerry Kreienkamp said the reopening will not greatly affect local mail delivery, which he said has been on time after the initial challenge of rerouting the mail to sorting centers in suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia.
The Postal Service will continue to test for anthrax spores in the months leading up to the reopening, even as the building is refurbished, Mr. Day said.
Engineers conducted the fumigation by pumping a ton of the lethal gas chlorine dioxide into the facility.
The estimated cost of fumigating Brentwood and a similarly contaminated facility in Hamilton Township, N.J., is $150 million, Mr. Day said. Postal officials had estimated that it would cost $20 million to $30 million to decontaminate Brentwood.
"The cost to clean up these two facilities was quite underestimated," Mr. Day said. "It's grown to be a much bigger project."
The Brentwood facility was closed Oct. 21, 2001, after Mr. Morris died of inhalation anthrax. Mr. Curseen died the next day after returning to a hospital. The mail center was renamed in October after the postal workers.
Five persons nationwide, including the postal workers, have died of inhalation anthrax since October 2001, after anthrax-laced letters were mailed to sites in Florida, New York and the District. Eighteen persons contracted and recovered from skin anthrax, a less-virulent form of the disease.
Federal authorities have named no suspects in the anthrax attacks but have determined that the spores originated at a biowarfare research center at Fort Detrick, Md.
The Justice Department has said there are 20 "persons of interest" in the anthrax investigation but has named only one publicly. Steven J. Hatfill, 48, a scientist at the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick from 1997 to 1999, was named by the FBI in June.
The FBI searched Mr. Hatfill's apartment several times and recently employed divers on two occasions to search a pond near Fort Detrick after a tip that lab equipment used in the anthrax attacks was dumped there.
One law-enforcement source has said the searches "might not have been as productive" as hoped.
Mr. Hatfill has maintained his innocence and has called press conferences to decry the government for "ruining" his life.
Hatfill spokesman Pat Clawson said yesterday that the FBI continues to follow and watch Mr. Hatfill, who was fired from his research position at Louisiana State University in the summer at the behest of the Justice Department.

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