Washington-area postal facility gets clean bill of health

The Postal Service Tuesday announced that its main processing plant in the nation's capital is clean of all traces of anthrax. The 17.5 million cubic foot Brentwood facility has been closed since October 2001, when an anthrax-tainted letter moved through it en route to Sen. Tom Daschle's office.

The facility, which processes mail for all Washington-area federal agencies and Congress, is expected to reopen sometime this summer. Before that happens, the building will be renovated with new carpeting and paint.

"I'm very pleased by the results," said Thomas Day, vice president of engineering for the agency. "USPS worked extremely hard to identify the best technology and processes to decontaminate the [facility]. These efforts were worth it. The safety of our employees and the people we serve demands no less."

More than 5,000 environmental samples taken in the building after it was decontaminated last December came back negative for any sign of anthrax. A team of safety, health and environmental experts from various federal and local agencies reviewed the samples. The team operated independently of the Postal Service.

Agency leaders came under heavy criticism from Brentwood employees in October 2001 for keeping the building open even after the anthrax-tainted letter was discovered in Daschle's office.

Now, Postal Service executives and managers have to prepare more than 2,000 workers to return to a building where two of their colleagues were fatally exposed to the bacteria.It's a difficult task, said Duane Buchanan, manager of distribution operations at a temporary postal facility in Northeast Washington.

"There will be a mix of emotions, but many of the employees I talked with are looking forward to getting back," he said. "It's home. You don't realize how much you appreciate your own place, your home, until you are away from it for a while."