WASHINGTON – Suburban Maryland facilities will continue to receive mail from a closed Washington, D.C., center while postal officials look for the best way to sanitize the facility where anthrax-tainted letters were linked to the deaths of two workers.
Postal centers in Gaithersburg, Capitol Heights and College Park have been getting rerouted mail from the Brentwood facility in Northeast Washington, which was shut down Oct. 21 after traces of anthrax were found on the premises.
Officials had hoped to have Brentwood reopened around Thanksgiving. Now, they say, they are hoping for a year-end return to operations, although no official reopening date has been set.
The Postal Service said Tuesday that it is waiting to see results of cleanup efforts in the Hart Senate Office Building before deciding how to proceed on Brentwood. Hart was closed Oct. 17 after an anthrax-tainted letter was discovered in the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-N.D.
Deborah Yackley, a spokeswoman for the Postal Service in the Washington region, said that the procedures used to sanitize Hart might be adopted to clean the much larger Brentwood facility, depending on their effectiveness.
“The clean-up procedure is kind of an experimental thing,” Yackley said. First the building must be cleaned, then tested to make sure all hazardous materials were killed. If anthrax is still detected, the process starts over.
In the meantime, Yackley said, mail from Brentwood is being diverted to the Suburban Maryland Processing and Distribution Center in Gaithersburg, the Southern Maryland Processing and Distribution Center in Capitol Heights and the Calvert Processing Center in College Park.
She said it is possible that officials will know by next week how effective the Hart cleanup was. Procedures may include a combination of a liquid solution of chlorine to kill the anthrax, a vacuum to collect the spores and a gas that kills the bacteria, she said.
But Lt. Dan Nichols, a spokesman for the U.S. Capitol Police, could not say late Tuesday when Hart might reopen. He said no plan for sanitizing the building has been agreed on, but that it would likely include fumigating parts of the building with chlorine gas.
Nichols’ comments came as he announced Tuesday that traces of anthrax had been found this weekend in the office suites of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. Both offices were tested last month and declared clean, but retested this weekend after an anthrax-tainted letter, this one addressed to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., was discovered.
All three senators have offices in the Russell building. The Leahy letter was found in a batch of quarantined Capitol mail that was being held at a Northern Virginia mail facility.
Yackley and Jerry Lane, district manager of the Postal Service, had been scheduled to brief local Maryland officials Tuesday on the status of the Brentwood reopening. That briefing was canceled due to scheduling conflicts, before Nichols announced the new anthrax findings.
The briefing was to include Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan, Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry, Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Largo, and Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda. But Morella remains confident that Brentwood mail being handled in Gaithersburg poses no health threat, an aide said.
“In reality, the mail at this point is extremely safe,” said Jonathan Dean, a spokesman for Morella, adding that there have been no cases of anthrax exposure in the county.