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Last Updated

04 Nov 2002

Source: Washington Post, September 27, 2002.

Anthrax Cleanup Test Ordered

Postal Service Plans Third Trial Run on D.C. Fumigation

By Petula Dvorak, Washington Post Staff Writer

Under orders from the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Postal Service will conduct a third test of the cleaning procedure to be used at the Brentwood postal facility before fumigation can begin, officials said yesterday.

During a town hall meeting last night at Gallaudet University, postal workers and community leaders said they were leery of the cleanup effort after learning that the EPA and the Postal Service differed on the success of the last test.

The Brentwood facility -- renamed the Joseph Curseen Jr. (case 16) and Thomas Morris Jr. (case 15) Processing and Distribution Center for the postal workers who died after being exposed to anthrax spores there -- has been closed since the powder was found in letters in October.

"At this point, I think we need to talk seriously about an evacuation program for the area because I'm not comfortable with you anymore," D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) told postal officials at the meeting. "I'm not going to tell the 75,000 people I represent that I'm comfortable with this process."

For 10 hours on Sept. 17, anthrax-killing chemicals were pumped into the building, neutralized into harmless salt and water and then sucked back out, a process called scrubbing, said Thomas Day, Postal Service vice president of engineering.

But EPA officials said 10 hours is not long enough to simulate the conditions the scrubbing machines will endure when the building is completely fumigated. A 24-hour test would do that best and guarantee that the Postal Service would get the clearance to fumigate the building, said Marcos A. Aquino, the EPA's coordinator for the cleanup effort.

Day said the Postal Service will comply with the EPA's decision to conduct another test, though he added that "to be perfectly candid, there was a slight disagreement between experts" about the validity of the Sept. 17 test.

No date has been set for the fumigation; the next test will take place within two weeks. The Postal Service could be ready sooner, but because the large amount of chlorine dioxide used has to be brought into the District by armed escorts, officials will wait until after this weekend's International Monetary Fund protests, Day said.

He also described the cleaning process, complete with pictures showing workers in chemical-resistant suits -- one crouched deep inside an oven in the cafeteria -- scrubbing all surfaces by hand.

Still, that didn't give all the postal workers at the meeting peace of mind.

"I am concerned the trucks that dropped off those letters weren't checked. A little spore could've fallen into the bed of a truck," mail handler Pedro I. Paula said through a sign language interpreter.

Day said that all the trucks were fumigated and that the trays, sacks and rollers that come into contact with mail were also cleansed, then destroyed.

Ray Robinson, 39, who worked at Brentwood before he was temporarily transferred to the facility in Gaithersburg, asked a doctor from the D.C. Department of Health who attended the meeting to guarantee his safety.