Entire section of Senate office building sealed off indefinitely after anthrax cleansing

Thursday, October 25th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ An entire portion of a Senate office building where anthrax was discovered last week will have to be sealed off indefinitely, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Thursday.

Daschle, D-S.D., told reporters that anthrax found Wednesday in a new location in that same Hart office building was just a trace amount. Doctors consider the discovery to be relatively low risk and have ordered no new tests of people who may have been exposed to the potentially deadly germs, Daschle said.

Capitol police officials said the new anthrax discovery was made in a freight elevator area on the first floor of the Hart building's southwest quadrant. On Oct. 15, a letter opened in Daschle's office in that same building was found to contain anthrax _ leading to the testing of more than 6,000 people, the shutdown of all of Congress' office buildings for inspections and early adjournment last week by the House and Senate.

Daschle said the entire southeast portion of the Hart building would have to be sealed off, in effect shutting down the main offices of a dozen senators. The eight-story building houses the offices of half the Senate's 100 members.

Senators should be able to get into the rest of the building sometime next week, Daschle said. But no one will be allowed into the southeast quadrant offices to retrieve anything prior to sealing, he said.

``I am very confident that we will be able to seal it in a way that will provide us complete confidence that we can access the rest of the building without any hazardous exposure. And I think it is important we get under way and get that job done,'' he said.

Daschle said he did not know how the offices would be sealed off, but it will require special material because authorities have said the anthrax spores in Daschle's letter were barely more than a micron in size and could slip through most standard filters. There are 25,000 microns in an inch.

Meanwhile, tests continued on a woman at a local hospital for possible inhalation anthrax. The woman, a female employee of an electronic news organization, was outside Daschle's office the day the letter was opened and has complained of flulike symptoms, said Mike Hall, spokesman for Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md., where she is being treated.

If it is confirmed that she has inhalation anthrax, she would be the first person to have contracted the disease inside the Capitol complex.

Dr. John Eisold, the Capitol physician, said Thursday, ``I have good reason to believe that this person will turn out to be fine.''

Two of the three chief House office buildings _ the Rayburn and Cannon buildings _ reopened Thursday, following the reopening of the Russell Senate Office Building on Wednesday.

Daschle said he hoped that Dirksen could be reopened Friday. An anthrax-contaminated mailroom there was cleansed with an anti-bacterial foam Wednesday night and will be sealed off before the rest of the building opens, he said.

All six of Congress' main office buildings were shuttered the evening of Oct. 17 for anthrax testing. Even the House portion of the Capitol was off-limits for several days while tests were conducted.

Investigators still were trying to determine how the anthrax got to the freight elevator area of the Hart building. Capitol Police Lt. Dan Nichols said they are used to carry mail _ which could mean that the bacteria came from the Daschle letter.

The woman apparently was not among the 28 people whose nasal swab tests showed had been exposed to anthrax. Authorities have identified those 28 _ out of more than 5,000 people tested _ as being aides to Daschle and Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., and police officers who reported to Daschle's suite the day the letter was opened. Feingold's office is next to Daschle's.

The Ford building _ where traces of anthrax were found at the mail facility _ is expected to open Friday following decontamination there.