Work began yesterday to remove anthrax spores from the Brentwood postal facility in Washington, though it could be next year before the facility reopens.
Thomas G. Day, vice president for engineering at the U.S. Postal Service, said last week at a House Government Reform subcommittee hearing that even if the 17 million cubic-foot facility received a clean bill of health as early as the fall, it would remain closed for renovation for several additional months.
“The fact that the building is decontaminated of anthrax does not mean that we open the doors,” Day said.
The postal service pumped chlorine dioxide gas yesterday into a tent inside the building erected over three mail-processing machines, including one that handled anthrax-tainted letters sent to members of Congress last October. Workers used about five pounds of gas for the test, and it will take 2,000 pounds of chlorine dioxide to cleanse the entire building over several days.
The area will be tested a week to 10 days later, and if the effort proves successful, decontamination for the rest of the facility will begin in mid-to-late August. After that, a full renovation of the building would begin, and Brentwood's 2,500 employees could return after several months if there is no trace of anthrax.
A system to detect biological agents eventually would be installed, but that system — now being developed — probably wouldn't be ready in time for the reopening. In addition, mail would continue to be irradiated in an effort to decontaminate it.
Day estimated the total cost of the decontamination at $22 million. The facility, which handled most mail for the Capitol, was shut down after last fall's anthrax-by-mail attacks that killed two postal workers and left thousands receiving preventive treatment.