Senate office building expected to be treated again after lingering spores found

Saturday, December 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Officials were planning to pump chlorine dioxide gas into the ventilation system of a Senate office building after tests found trace amounts of anthrax spores remained there.

The potentially lethal gas was expected to be spread through the ventilation system. Officials earlier used the gas to kill spores in the offices of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, but tests also found some still lingering in the South Dakota Democrat's suite.

The Environmental Protection Agency had planned to begin the new fumigation operation Friday. But equipment problems pushed the start back to the early morning hours of Saturday and then delayed the operation again for an undetermined period, Capitol Police Lt. Dan Nichols said.

``They had continued difficulties,'' he said Saturday. He had said earlier that the fumigation was under way.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was unlikely that all the spores would be killed.

The Hart Senate Office Building has been closed since Oct. 17, two days after an anthrax-filled letter was received in Daschle's office.

``We're not going to go back in until it's been certified as absolutely safe,'' Daschle said.

The EPA said it would use chlorine dioxide gas in part of the building's ventilation system and the liquid form of chlorine dioxide in Daschle's office.

``This is just sort of a belt-and-suspenders approach,'' said Richard Rupert, the EPA's onsite coordinator. ``We want to make sure that it's very safe when people go back in.''

He said the positive samples ``were all pretty much in one area that was always one of the hottest areas'' _ the cold-air return in the ventilation system.

The EPA pumped chlorine dioxide gas into Daschle's suite two weeks ago in an attempt to kill all traces of anthrax. In 11 other senators' offices in the building, they have used liquid and foam decontaminants and vacuuming to try to kill the anthrax.

``There appears to be only a small risk from the small number of spores on the surfaces now,'' CDC spokeswoman April Bell said. It is not known precisely how spore-free a building must be for absolute safety.

``They'll keep sampling and keep cleaning until people are comfortable about going back into the building,'' Bell said.

It has been estimated that the Daschle letter contained billions of spores.

Investigators are still analyzing spores found in a letter that was mailed to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., but never delivered. Early indications are that the spores are identical to those in the Daschle letter. The FBI said Friday it still is awaiting test results.

The CDC has confirmed 18 cases of anthrax infection, 11 cases of inhalation anthrax and seven through the skin since the anthrax-by-mail attacks began in October. Five people have died; all had the more serious inhalation anthrax.

Two of dead were Washington postal workers, believed to have come in contact with the anthrax-tainted letters sent to Capitol Hill.

Officials also are investigating the anthrax deaths of an elderly woman in Connecticut and a New York hospital worker as possible cases of cross-contamination of the mail. The fifth victim was a newspaper photo editor in Florida.