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Last Updated

05 Mar 2003

Source: Washington Post, March 5, 2003

No Anthrax Spores Found at Brentwood

Postal Service Says Tests Show Building Is Safe After 2 Deaths; Summer Reopening Planned

By Manny Fernandez, Washington Post Staff Writer

Thousands of samples taken from the air and surfaces inside the long-shuttered Brentwood Road postal facility in Northeast Washington showed no signs of anthrax spores, paving the way for the building to reopen to workers this summer, U.S. Postal Service officials announced yesterday.

Reoccupation will not take place until an environmental committee reviews the results and other tests, but the findings prompted the Postal Service to say that December's fumigation of Washington's central mail processing plant was a success. About 2,000 pounds of chlorine dioxide gas was pumped into the 17.5 million-cubic-foot facility, which has been closed since the October 2001 anthrax attacks.

The samples show that the gas effectively rescued the building from the deadly bacteria, said Thomas G. Day, the Postal Service vice president for engineering. "We are very confident that we have a building that is anthrax-free," Day said.

But apprehension remains among some workers. "The majority of workers have anxieties about going back," said Dena Briscoe, who was a clerk in the facility and is now president of Brentwood Exposed, a support group of former and current workers. Briscoe said she hasn't decided whether to return, despite the announcement. "That's really our building, as workers," she said. "We would love for that building to be ours again, but it's going to take time to adjust."

The building was renamed in honor of Joseph P. Curseen (case 16) and Thomas L. Morris Jr. (case 15), two postal workers who worked there and who died of inhalation anthrax.

The sample results are being reviewed by an independent committee of 15 academic, government and private-sector experts, the Environmental Clearance Committee. It is chaired by the D.C. Department of Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and will evaluate further testing and make a recommendation on whether the building is safe to reopen. Committee members entered the building Wednesday without protective gear, and they are expected to confirm the fumigation's success with a report in the next few days, postal officials said.

Anticipating that, the Postal Service has crews preparing the inside of the building for the return of 1,600 employees, pulling up the carpet and removing window coverings. Some of the equipment that makes up the multimillion-dollar fumigation network of piping, chemical tanks and labs will be removed over the next several weeks, and extensive renovation work will get underway, including replacing the carpet and office furniture and repainting the walls. Further environmental sampling will be conducted during the renovation.

Day said that, pending approval by the scientific committee, postal employees would be able to return to work in the summer. Officials with the American Postal Workers Union, which represents postal clerks, drivers and maintenance employees, said they had not yet received the data for review. "We're certainly pleased that these are their findings, and we hope their findings are borne out," said union spokeswoman Sally Davidow.

Crews in hazardous-materials gear took 5,029 air and surface samples after the fumigation, officials said. The surface samples were taken at predetermined locations in the building, and blowers and fans were used to stir up the air for "aggressive air samples," Day said. The samples were studied, and all showed "100 percent no growth" of anthrax spores, he said.

In addition, 6,500 spore strips, which contain a noninfectious organism that has the same resiliency that anthrax does and served as a tracking method, were placed throughout the plant and were examined. More than 99 percent of those spores were killed during the fumigation, Day said. Seventy strips had "minimal growth" of the test organism. Day said those results might have been because of the way the strip is made. Independent testing performed by the Armed Forces Radiobiological Research Institute showed even better results -- 100 percent of the test spores killed. That institute also found air and surface samples negative.

Day emphasized that in all the testing done following the fumigation, not a single spore of anthrax turned up. "Not a one," he said.