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Last Updated

05 Nov 2002

Source: Washington Post, December 2, 2001.

Daschle's Offices Fumigated for Anthrax

Results of Testing to Determine Effectiveness Are Expected by Next Weekend

By Avram Goldstein, Washington Post Staff Writer

Technicians in biohazard suits yesterday fumigated the office suite where a Senate aide opened a letter containing anthrax spores Oct. 15, revealing a bioterrorist attack that has killed two District postal workers, sickened three other people and put thousands of area residents on preventive antibiotics.

Environmental Protection Agency officials and private contractors started pumping chlorine dioxide gas into the sealed suite of Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) about 3 a.m. yesterday, using an untested method they hope will kill anthrax spores in a large area.

Late in the afternoon, officials concluded things were going so smoothly that, to make sure the process was effective, they could extend the fumigation beyond the 12 hours originally planned.

There was no evidence that the deadly gas escaped from the building in concentrations that carried any risk to humans, officials said.

The outdoor environmental exposure to chlorine dioxide deemed acceptable by District health officials was 25 parts per billion. A $1 million EPA bus outfitted with sensitive equipment drove around the building twice hourly and did not detect any significant amounts. No reading exceeded 175 parts of chlorine dioxide per trillion -- a level that EPA officials said could as easily have been caused by a neighbor using laundry bleach.

"This is one of the calmest days we've had since we've been here," said Richard Rupert, the EPA's on-site coordinator. "We've planned for this event for weeks, and the plan paid off. Everybody's walking around relaxed because it's working."

After the fumigation, the agency planned to pump sodium bisulfite gas into the 3,000-square-foot Daschle suite for at least six hours to scrub the deadly chlorine dioxide from the air. Rupert said he was not sure when that procedure would end today.

When the gas stops flowing, Rupert said crews will collect environmental samples and run confirmation tests to make sure all spores are dead. "If they are what we hope, we can go in and remove some of the carpets and that sort of thing and turn it over to the renovators," he said.

Results of the testing will be known by next weekend.

Throughout the most dangerous phase of the process, five men equipped with self-contained breathing apparatus, full face masks, Tyvek suits and rubber gloves remained just outside Daschle's suite in the southeast corner of the building.

Outside on the east side of the building, under a portico that carpenters converted into a staging area, another crew of five dressed in biohazard gear stood by at all times ready to rescue those inside if necessary.

Police blocked motor vehicle traffic from the streets fronting the Hart Senate Office Building to accommodate the sniffer bus equipped with a trace atmospheric gas analyzer as it made 10-mph laps around the building.

Pedestrians were allowed to roam sidewalks opposite the building, and no one was advised to leave the area at any point. A block away on Massachusetts Avenue NE, restaurant patrons ate bagels or Mexican food at outdoor tables without showing any concern.

The neighbors most likely to have been affected were residents of Thompson-Markward Memorial Hall, a dorm-style residence across the street from Hart's entrance on Second Street NE.

"I had my window open last night," said Heather Palmer, an intern who lives there. Another resident, Jessica May, a catering sales manager, said Thompson-Markward residents did not seem especially concerned by the fumigation and have grown accustomed to unusual events in and around the Hart building.

"We've become friends with all these people," she said. "We know the names of all the security guards."

Even if the Daschle suite is made completely safe, it will be at least two weeks before the building reopens, officials said.

Senate offices in other buildings will be open tomorrow.

Rupert said he does not expect any more fumigation to be necessary. Common areas have been cleaned, and some furniture and carpeting has been removed from other suites. Chlorine dioxide solution will be used to clean some offices where trace amounts of anthrax bacteria were found.

A 94-year-old Connecticut woman who died 10 days ago was the fifth fatality since the anthrax threat emerged two months ago. The other victims include two U.S. Postal Service employees who worked at its Brentwood facility, where the letter to Daschle and a second anthrax-tainted letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) were processed.