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Last Updated

26 Jul 2002

Source: Washington Post, July 26, 2002.

Brentwood Fumigation Equipment Faces Test

Postal Service Says It Will Gas Tent

By Monte Reel, Washington Post Staff Writer

The U.S. Postal Service plans to pump chlorine dioxide gas into a tent inside the Brentwood postal plant in Northeast Washington on Monday to test equipment that will be used to decontaminate the entire building this summer.

The tent is being erected over three mail processing machines, including the one that handled the anthrax-tainted letters that were sent to members of Congress last October. Two postal workers from that facility eventually died from inhalation anthrax (cases 15 and 16), and since then it has been quarantined.

The Postal Service announced its plans at a hastily convened news conference late yesterday afternoon. A congressional subcommittee has scheduled a public hearing on the fumigation plans this morning at Gallaudet University.

Theodore Gordon, senior deputy director for the D.C. Health Department, said five pounds of the toxic gas will be pumped into the 29,000-cubic-foot tent on Monday. About 2,000 pounds would be used to fumigate the entire 17.5 million-cubic-foot facility, officials have said.

"The amount of chemicals in play [on Monday] is very limited," said Peter LaPorte, director of emergency management for the District, "but this will serve as a very good test run for us."

Chlorine dioxide, which kills bacteria that causes anthrax, was used last year to decontaminate the Hart Senate Office Building, which is about 100,000 cubic feet. Gordon said Monday's test will determine whether the Postal Service's fumigation equipment will be able to decontaminate the Brentwood building in a single round of gassing -- the largest such fumigation ever attempted.

Multiple rounds were needed to fully cleanse the Hart Building because ventilation blockages disrupted humidity levels needed to ensure the effectiveness of the gas. But officials believe the equipment slated to be used at Brentwood will allow them to maintain the proper humidity, temperature and gas concentration levels needed for successful decontamination.

No one will be inside during the test, and air-quality monitors will be positioned outside, Gordon said. The building has been sealed, and the amount of gas used Monday wouldn't pose a health threat even if it managed to escape, which Gordon said he did not anticipate. "If gas is released, ultraviolet rays would cause it to break down very rapidly," he said.

The test will take about 24 hours, said Thomas G. Day, vice president of engineering for the Postal Service. Samples from the equipment in the tent will be collected about a week to 10 days after the gassing, and analysis will likely take an additional 20 to 30 days. If the test is deemed a success, officials will begin the full-scale fumigation shortly thereafter.

LaPorte said the District would post more police around the building starting Sunday evening, and they will remain through Monday. No roads will be closed and no business will be affected, he said.

The House Government Reform subcommittee on the District will conduct a hearing on the Brentwood fumigation plans at 10 this morning in Gallaudet University's Kellogg Conference Center, at 800 Florida Ave. NE. The District's Department of Mental Health plans to send about 20 employees door-to-door in neighborhoods around the Brentwood plant to inform residents of the test and to answer questions throughout the weekend.

The Postal Service said that a toll-free information line at 800-527-0741 will be staffed starting Monday to answer questions about the fumigation process.