- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2004

The Dirksen Senate Office Building reopened yesterday after being closed since the lethal poison ricin was discovered Feb. 2 in a mailroom.

But the office in which the ricin was found will remain closed for decontamination for another two weeks.

U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Contricia Sellers-Ford said there is no timetable for reopening offices occupied by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, because authorities are conducting a “more detailed cleanup.”

Sgt. Sellers-Ford said the cleanup and restoration of the fourth-floor offices, where trace amounts of ricin mixed with paper dust were discovered on a mail-sorting machine, is being handled by the Capitol Police Hazardous Materials Response Team and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

She said the carpets are being steam cleaned and hard surfaces are being rubbed down with a mild chlorine-based solution.

The faint odor of bleach was noticeable yesterday and the air was stale because of the weeklong shutdown of the ventilation system. Otherwise, the building appeared normal as workers hurried up and down the hallways.

According to leaflets distributed to staffers going to work at the Dirksen building yesterday morning, 1,300 air and surface samples were collected and tested, but “only a few” taken from Mr. Frist’s office confirmed positive for ricin. Officials are continuing to test fresh samples, the leaflets stated.

The Russell and Hart Senate office buildings reopened late last week, after also being closed Feb. 3 as a precaution.

FBI officials said Friday they had found no additional traces of ricin after testing all materials recovered from Mr. Frist’s office.

A batch of papers including 43 letters were taken from the office and tested at the Naval Medical Research Center in Bethesda. All tested negative for ricin, a toxin made from castor beans that can be fatal if inhaled, ingested or injected.

Investigators still don’t know how the ricin, with no known antidote, got into Mr. Frist’s office.

Since the discovery last week, people almost every day have found suspicious packages, powders and items in their Senate offices, in the Capitol or on the grounds, though nothing has been identified as dangerous.

Officials are still collecting and testing unopened letters throughout the Capitol complex, and it may be days or weeks before the congressional mail system is back to normal.

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