BOCA RATON, Fla. – The federal government will pay to clean up a tabloid publisher's headquarters as the Environmental Protection Agency began testing the extent of anthrax contamination in the building, EPA officials said Monday.
The federal government has allocated $500,000 from the Superfund program to pay for the decontamination of American Media Inc.'s offices, said Fred Stroud, the EPA's on-scene coordinator.
Carl Terry, an EPA spokesman in Atlanta, said the building has not been designated a Superfund site because it only requires a short-term emergency cleanup. Stroud said the cleanup should take at least one month.
The FBI turned the building over to the EPA last weekend after agents spent two weeks scouring the offices for evidence. The building was closed Oct. 8 when anthrax spores were discovered in the mailroom and on the keyboard of Sun photo editor Bob Stevens, who died from the inhaled form of the disease.
The FBI gave the EPA results of its environmental testing on about 10 percent of the building, mainly in the mailroom and around Stevens' desk on the third floor. The EPA will conduct more extensive environmental testing covering the entire building, Stroud said.
"We need to know the status of the complete facility, not just the areas where the crime may or may not have occurred," he said.
Stroud said crews on Sunday took 20 samples from the ventilation system on the first floor, where the mailroom is located. Results are expected Monday afternoon.
The EPA is weighing several methods to decontaminate the building. One is a standard bleach solution that was successful last week in getting rid of anthrax spores at a Boca Raton postal facility that handled American Media mail.
Other possibilities include the use of a bacteria-killing foam. The agency may sterilize the employees' personal items with vaporized hydrogen peroxide, Stroud said.
Military units will help in the cleanup. About a dozen members of the Coast Guard Strike Team based in Mobile, Ala., and 11 National Guard civil support team members based in Florida were en route to Boca Raton, Stroud said.
American Media said last week it will not return to the building. The company is operating out of temporary offices as it looks for permanent space.
The FBI believes an anthrax-tainted letter carried the bacteria that killed Stevens and infected mailroom worker Ernesto Blanco. Another co-worker tested positive for exposure but has not contracted the disease. Test results on 400 other employees are pending.
The EPA also will help decontaminate the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington where an anthrax-tainted letter arrived at Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office.