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Post Office Still Shut for Anthrax

July 28, 2002|LAURIE KELLMAN | ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

WASHINGTON — The huge mail processing center in the nation's capital that was tainted by anthrax in the fall probably won't reopen before 2003, postal officials told House lawmakers Friday.

Even after the 17-million-cubic-foot facility receives a clean bill of health as early as next fall, it will be closed for renovation for several additional months, one official said.

"The fact that the building is decontaminated of anthrax does not mean that we open the doors," Thomas Day, vice president for engineering for the postal service, told the House Subcommittee on the District of Columbia.

Even when it does open, it probably will not have new technology to sense and disperse biological hazards. Mail, Day said, would continue to be irradiated for anthrax.

The facility, which handled most mail for the capital, was shut down after last fall's anthrax mail attacks left two postal workers dead and thousands receiving preventive treatment.

The Brentwood facility processed an anthrax-filled letter sent to Capitol Hill, but officials were not immediately aware of the extent of the contamination. They initially allowed work to continue there -- even holding a news conference with top managers to try to ease workers' concerns. But the building was soon shuttered and about 2,500 workers were relocated.

At a hearing on the Gallaudet University campus, Day said tests planned for Monday on how well the Brentwood facility is sealed are only the beginning of a long process.

After the test, to see whether or not chlorine dioxide gas could escape, results must be processed and issued to the community.

The facility will be decontaminated over several days.

Brentwood will then be tested for anthrax, and the results analyzed over several weeks. The community must be informed of them.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) sought assurances from the panel that the cleanup is done as thoroughly as in the Hart Senate Office Building, where the tainted letter was opened.

"... I say, do it slow but do it right," Norton said.

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