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Expert: Ridding Hart Bldg. of anthrax difficult

Garage in Ford building closed for anthrax testing

By Ted Barrett and Brad Wright
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Killing or removing every single anthrax spore in the Hart Senate Office Building may not be possible, a federal health expert said Tuesday, but he expressed optimism the facility could still be decontaminated to a degree that allows it to reopen.

Environmental and health officials hope to learn by the end of week the results of anthrax testing in the building and whether they show an all-clear.

"Even our most exhaustive sampling strategies will not identify every spore," said Dr. Patrick J. Meehan, director of emergency and environmental health services for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "It is unlikely that any cleaning strategy will kill every spore."

Still, Meehan told a Senate panel that the EPA "should be able to clean and re-test to the point where we are all comfortable that spores have been killed or removed from surfaces where human contact is likely to occur."

The Hart building has been closed since October 17 when aides in the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, opened a letter teeming with anthrax spores.

"We are waiting to get the results," EPA Administrator Christie Whitman told the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee. "We should have those by the end of this week."

The building was fumigated with highly toxic chlorine dioxide gas to try to kill any remaining anthrax spores.

Before offices can be re-opened, however, additional testing will be done "to make sure both that the chlorine dioxide gas is out of the [Daschle] suite and also that we have achieved the results of zero traces of anthrax of living anthrax in that suite," Whitman said.

Senators and staff who have been displaced from the building are eager to get back to their work spaces. Erik Smulson, press secretary for Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vermont, who chairs the committee, said his temporary quarters are in another Senate building.

"We have 40 people in an office designed for 10," Smulson said. Meanwhile, Capitol Hill authorities have closed the garage in the Ford House Office Building to test whether it was contaminated with anthrax during cleanup of other parts of the building.

The possible contamination occurred about 8:30 a.m. Tuesday while workers removed anthrax-tainted material from two Ford offices, U.S. Capitol Police spokesman Lt. Dan Nichols said.

"A box or a bag containing contaminated material was opened accidentally" in the area of the garage being used as a staging area for the remediation process, Nichols said.

He said environmental testing will be done as a "precaution." Results will not be known for several days.

The Ford building, at the southwest base of Capitol Hill, is home to several administrative offices and a child-care facility serving the House of Representatives.

Mail bundling machines in the building's mailroom tested positive for anthrax shortly after the anthrax-laden letter was opened in Daschle's office.

A second office, home to the police department's hazardous devices section, whose officers were the first to respond to the Daschle office, also tested positive.

Those offices remain closed but the rest of the Ford building has reopened.


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