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Fumigation largely succeeding in clearing anthrax

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The heavily contaminated Hart Senate Office Building is closer to being cleared of its anthrax infestation, environmental officials said Friday. They said a chlorine dioxide cleansing has significantly reduced the presence of potentially deadly bacteria spores.

A fumigation treatment of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's suite of offices -- where a contaminated letter was opened nearly two months ago, the first salvo in an anthrax attack in Washington -- was very successful, said Rich Rupert of the Environmental Protection Agency.

"On our confirmation sampling, out of 380 samples, less than 10 came back positive, all pretty much in one area that was always one of the hot areas," Rupert said. "And those came back in what I can only describe as trace amounts."

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Rupert said the same chlorine dioxide treatment will be used on the building's heating, ventilation and air conditioning system (HVAC), where spores had been found after the letter was opened in Daschle's office.

The contaminated HVAC system covers only the southeast quadrant of the building -- about 13 Senate offices.

Capitol Hill Police spokesman Lt. Dan Nichols said treatment will begin on the HVAC system Friday night, and some streets around the building will be closed to facilitate the procedure, which is expected to take about 24 hours.

Decontamination of another 11 offices in the Senate Hart building where anthrax traces were found are "essentially complete," according to Rupert. Antibacterial foam and chlorine dioxide gel were used to clean those offices.

Nichols also said the cleaning of the four offices in the Longworth House Office Building are complete and will be "fully functional" next week.

Nichols said officials will not rush the clean-up job, but Daschle told reporters earlier in the day he hopes the building will reopen the beginning of next month.

"We're going to be guided by public safety as we have been all along," said Nichols.

Some of the 50 senators and their staff who have offices in Hart have expressed trepidation about going back into the building, questioning whether authorities would ever be sure it was anthrax-free.

Nichols said cleanup crews will do environmental sampling in every office before the building will be reoccupied.

Cleanup crews will use liquid chlorine dioxide to clean the nine areas of Daschle's office where fumigation did not kill the anthrax.

The office will get new carpets and equipment before staff returns to work there. Some artifacts from Daschle's office have been taken to a decontamination facility in Richmond, Virginia, where sensitive objects like papers and artwork can be cleaned.

The buildings were shut down after anthrax spores were found, mostly around mailrooms, in October. The anthrax contamination was traced through other mailrooms and eventually back to Washington's Brentwood processing facility, where two employees contracted the inhalation variety of the disease and died.

The letter sent to Daschle was postmarked at a Trenton, New Jersey, processing facility, as were similar letters sent to the New York Post, Sen. Patrick Leahy and NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw. Anthrax infections were found in postal facilities in several states.

Overall, five people have died of inhalation anthrax and six others have survived a bout with the disease. Seven other people contracted cutaneous (skin) anthrax.

Investigators have so far been unsuccessful at tracing the origin of the anthrax.


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