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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Hart Senate Office Building, Declared Free of Anthrax, to Open Friday

January 17, 2002|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Officials pronounced the Hart Senate Office Building free of anthrax on Wednesday, and maintenance crews began preparing it for a Friday reopening, three months after a letter laden with the deadly bacteria was opened there.

In a pair of memos e-mailed to senators, health and environmental officials said repeated efforts to cleanse the building had "achieved the goal of eliminating viable anthrax spores."

"It is clean and safe . . . for rehabilitation and reoccupancy," said the memo, citing the findings of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other agencies.

Even so, there were mixed reactions among workers about returning to the building where a letter believed to contain billions of anthrax spores was opened Oct. 15 in the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).

The letter--which contained a threatening note--came as anthrax was detected in dozens of locations around Washington, New York and elsewhere, causing five fatalities and a national focus on bioterrorism.

The nine-story Hart building, which houses the offices of half the 100 senators, has been closed since Oct. 17.

"You never know what will happen. You still don't have the confidence to say it's safe," said Francis Shaw, a congressional maintenance worker who with others spent the morning installing new carpeting in the building.

The group wore no protective gear after being told none was needed.

The workers said supervisors announced that anyone uncomfortable about entering the Hart building would not be forced to do so.

Others expressed relief about returning to their workplaces. Senators' staffs normally assigned to Hart have been dispersed among the Capitol and other Senate office buildings, private work space, district offices and their homes.

"Everybody is very happy to get back to our regular office and our regular working conditions," said Dave Lemmon, spokesman for Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

The Capitol Police also said a handful of anthrax-tainted offices in the Longworth and Ford House office buildings had been declared safe. Those offices were scheduled to reopen next Tuesday. The bulk of the Longworth and Ford buildings reopened in November.

In the initial days after the Daschle letter was opened, officials said the Hart building could be cleaned up and reoccupied by mid-November.

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