STATEMENT OF SENATOR GEORGE V. VOINOVICH
REMEDIATION OF BIOLOGICALLY CONTAMINATED BUILDINGS
ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE
DECEMBER 4, 2001
Good morning, Mr. Chairman. I would like to thank you for holding this important and very timely hearing into the remediation efforts of biological contamination of buildings.
Since the first time anthrax was used as a weapon of terror, the one thing that the American people want is information, such as what to look for, how to avoid exposure and how best to deal with contaminated mail. Unfortunately, the availability of this kind of information has been spotty, at best. Since October 15th, I have personally been very frustrated with the quality and reliability of the information regarding the anthrax contamination here in Washington, including the clean-up efforts.
Like many of my colleagues, I was originally told that my staff and I were safe in our office on the third floor of the Hart Building, that we had nothing to worry about. As news stories trickled out that the spores in the letter mailed to Senator Daschle were of a pure and highly potent variety, I was still informed that my staff and I had nothing to worry about and that we should go about our daily routine, even though several members of my own staff who work for the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on the sixth floor of the Hart Building were put on a 60 day regimen of Cipro. Two days later, I read in the Washington Post that the Capitol Attending Physician recommended that anyone who was in the Hart building, even for just a short while, over the previous two days should be tested for anthrax exposure: Senators, staff, constituents, couriers B everyone.
While we here in the Senate were expressing our concern over and reacting to our specific anthrax situation, workers at the Brentwood Mail Facility B where the letters targeting Capitol Hill were processed B were evidently unaware that letters laced with anthrax had passed through their building. Even more frustrating to me and to many others is the apparent fact that the safety and well-being of postal workers who handled the contaminated letters was given nowhere near the same consideration as was given to Senators, staff and visitors. Because of this inconsistency, two postal workers needlessly lost their lives.
Last month, I visited two post offices in Ohio to meet with the workers there to reassure them that people here in Washington are concerned about their safety. I also let them know that the federal government is doing everything possible to guarantee that they are not put in danger simply by doing their jobs.
I am also concerned about the more than 50,000 Ohio residents who have written my office in the last 6 weeks. Like my colleagues, I pride myself on being able to respond to my constituents in as timely a fashion as possible. However, given the disruption in the Senate=s mail service, a vital communications link between my constituents and I has temporarily disappeared. In fact, it was only just yesterday that we started to get a trickle of mail. God only knows how we are going to handle the mail in our temporary quarters when it starts coming in Afull force.@
Mr. Chairman, the thrust of the anthrax contamination has directly impacted several of our colleagues here in the Senate as well as their staff, but it has had the ancillary effect of forcing fifty Senators and hundreds of staff members from the Hart Building. Over the last 6 weeks, a variety of public officials from Capitol Hill and federal agencies debated the best course of remediation for the Hart Building until one was chosen, and it will likely be several more weeks until we are able to re-enter our offices.
We can do better, and I am looking forward to hearing from our witnesses as to how we can do so. One such witness is Mr. Les Vinney, President and CEO of an Ohio-based company, Steris Corporation Mr. Vinney has a significant amount of experience handling dangerous biological and chemical contaminants.
I would be interested in hearing what Administrator Whitman has to say regarding protocols that are being used in the Hart Building clean-up effort, particularly since the EPA is typically the regulating entity over a cleanup project such as this. Since the Agency has come under criticism for its handling of this cleanup, does this experience give you a new perspective on the difficulties that companies and other groups the EPA regulates face on similar projects?
The main thing I want to know is: what lessons have we learned from this experience and can we assure the American people that we have our act together? In addition, I have a special interest in ensuring the safety of the mail and particularly, our U.S. Postal Service employees. Since future anthrax attacks remain possible, these men and women are truly on the front lines and deserve our support.
Mr. Chairman, thank you again for calling today=s hearing.