WASHINGTON — Almost all of the U.S. Commerce Department building will be reopened today after an electrical fire Friday that released dangerous chemical fumes and forced closure of the complex.
"The Commerce Department is going to be open for everyone tomorrow, except those who report for work in the basement area," spokesman Morrie Goodman said Sunday.
Goodman said fewer than 200 of the 3,600 people employed in the building work in the basement.
The fire, which started in a cabinet containing capacitors that operate the building's central clock system, sent dozens of workers to a local hospital. It was brought under control by firefighters within minutes.
The building, which also houses the National Aquarium, remained closed over the weekend while experts analyzed the level of contamination from the release of potentially harmful PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, cancer-causing chemicals used as a cooling agent around electrical equipment.
Goodman said the basement will be closed today for further cleanup of debris resulting from extinguishing the fire.
The fire forced the evacuation of the mammoth building, which covers an entire city block, and choked rush-hour traffic near the Washington Monument, including the key thoroughfares of Pennsylvania Avenue and the 14th Street Bridge to Virginia.
Forty-eight people were transported to George Washington University Hospital, including 32 department employees or contractors and 16 emergency medical technicians and firefighters. All were treated and released.