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EPA: No timeline on Senate offices reopening

The building has been closed since aides to Sen. Tom Daschle opened an anthrax-laced letter in mid-October.  

From Kate Snow
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Hart Senate Office Building will probably not reopen next week, even if new tests show the building is anthrax-free, the Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday.

EPA officials expressed optimism this week that the latest clean-up efforts have been successful, but gave no definitive time when the building's tenants, including 50 U.S. senators, can return to their offices.

"They have a lot of work to do on that building," said EPA spokeswoman Bonnie Piper. "Some carpets have to be replaced, pieces of furniture have to be replaced. It's extensive housekeeping."

Even if samples taken from the building show no signs of anthrax, the final decision will rest with several groups -- including the EPA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Senate Sergeant at Arms, architect of the Capitol and Capitol physician's office.

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The decision-making process is "all new," said Richard Rupert, who is overseeing the clean-up for the EPA.

"Everybody's a little fuzzy on 'How clean is clean?', 'What do you have know?' and 'If you find one spore, does that mean you can't open it?'" said Rupert.

The building has been closed since aides to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, opened an anthrax-laced letter in his office in mid-October.

After an aborted clean-up attempt two weeks ago, health workers began fumigating the building on Friday evening. That process, scheduled to last 24 hours, concluded Monday morning.

Workers removed about 400 Band-Aid-sized test strips from the Hart building's ventilation ducts on Monday night. The strips contain a bacteria similar to anthrax; if it is gone after the fumigation, the anthrax is considered gone, health officials say. Cloth used to swipe samples from the heating and air conditioning system will also be tested.

Still, "we're a long way from saying we killed any spores" Rupert cautioned. Officials will not know if the fumigation was successful until test results on samples taken from the building come back, which will be next Wednesday at the earliest.


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