Senator wants accounting of $14 million anthrax cleanup costs for congressional buildings

Saturday, January 19th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A senator says he wants the Environmental Protection Agency to provide details about why it has so far cost an estimated $14 million to remove anthrax from the Hart Senate Office Building and elsewhere on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said Friday that his staff was given the estimate by an EPA official. EPA spokeswoman Bonnie Piper confirmed that $14 million has been spent so far.

According to Grassley, 96 percent of the total _ $13,440,000 _ was for the cleaning of Hart, where an anthrax-filled letter to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota was opened on Oct. 15. The building, which houses the offices of 50 of the 100 senators, including Grassley, has been closed since Oct. 17.

``In a task of such large magnitude, costs can very easily escalate and there can be a tendency to run up the tab,'' Grassley wrote to EPA Administrator Christie Whitman in a letter he distributed to reporters.

The letter asked Whitman to provide details of how the money was spent, including the names of contractors and what they have done. He said he wants the answers by Jan. 25.

The EPA's Piper said Whitman would provide more details to Grassley in a letter.

Lesser amounts of anthrax were cleaned up in five other congressional office buildings. Since the cleanups were not all finished until January, Grassley wrote that the cost was certain to exceed $14 million.

Grassley released his figures as officials announced that after several delays, Hart was now scheduled to reopen next Tuesday.

The U.S. Capitol Police announced the reopening of the Hart building after final tests showed no evidence of anthrax on cleanup gear or the Hart hallway where the equipment was belatedly found.

Hart had been scheduled to reopen to the public and staff on Friday. But that was delayed after a bag of cleanup gear _ gloves and a hazardous material suit _ was found late Wednesday in a hallway ceiling outside Daschle's sixth-floor office.

An investigation into how the bag of gear got there is continuing, the police said in a written statement.

``Initial information indicates it is likely that the bag was inadvertently used to seal air leaks in preparation for the fumigation of Senator Daschle's suite,'' they said.

They said the bag resembled other bags used to seal leaks in the building when it was being decontaminated with poisonous chlorine dioxide gas.

Capitol Police spokesman Lt. Dan Nichols said workers returned to Hart Friday afternoon to prepare the building for its reopening.

Several basement offices in the adjoining Dirksen Senate Office Building were reopened Friday, Nichols said. They had been shut as a precaution because they share a ventilation system with a room where the potentially exposed workers had been taken. Tests on those rooms were negative, the police said.

In the days after the Daschle letter was opened, officials said they expected Hart to be cleaned and reopened by mid-November. But that date slipped repeatedly as initial attempts to clean its one-million-square-foot interior failed.

After the bag was discovered Wednesday, a preliminary test showed no evidence of anthrax. Twenty-five maintenance and emergency workers were put on antibiotics as a precaution.

With word of the negative test results, the Office of the Attending Physician of the Capitol recommended that the workers stop taking the antibiotics.

The 2002 session of Congress begins Wednesday.