Authorities are preparing to reopen
the three U.S. Senate office buildings closed after the deadly poison ricin was
discovered in one of them on Monday.
Hazardous materials experts, with assistance from the U.S. Marines, have been
hard at work decontaminating the Dirksen Senate office building, where the ricin
was found. They also have been checking the other two Senate office buildings
closed amid the scare to make sure there has been no other contamination.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says the workers have made enough progress
to allow one of the buildings to open Thursday, another Friday and the Dirksen
building to open Monday.
Senator Frist says air monitoring equipment, installed after anthrax-laced letters
were delivered to two Senators in 2001, show that the ricin contamination has
"All that monitoring and filtering equipment employed, the filters all have
been demonstrated to be clean, and therefore there has not been aerosolization
of this agent," he said.
No illnesses have been reported as a result of the ricin contamination.
Meanwhile, law enforcement authorities are investigating whether the ricin
found on Capitol Hill is linked to the same toxin discovered in letters at
mail facilities serving the White House and a South Carolina airport last November.
The existence of those letters were revealed only Tuesday, and authorities
say they posed no public health concerns.
Capitol Hill Police Chief Terrance Gainer would not comment on whether the
incidents are linked.
"There is no 'smoking letter' information that helps tie this thing together.
We are keeping an open mind, we are looking at all the facts, and it is being
jointly analyzed with the FBI," he said.
Mail delivery has been suspended to Capitol Hill, and mail received over
the past week has been confiscated.
Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, has been concerned about the
disruption in communication with his constituents. "We had to direct all of
our phone calls from the Hart building to my district office in Iowa," he said. "I
am advising people who mailed us mail within the last 10 days, because they
are gathering up all the mail that has arrived recently, that that may go in
the same big black hole that it went in when we had the anthrax scare. So people
who wrote to me within the last 10 days ought to re-send the letter."
Senate Majority Leader Frist says Senators are being allowed to access their
offices to retrieve essential documents while clean-up efforts are continuing.