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House side of Capitol reopens

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The House side of the Capitol briefly closed due to potential asbestos exposure Thursday morning, re-opening a few hours later.

The building returned to normal operation at 9 a.m., about two hours after Capitol Police sent out an alert first warning of an “industrial spill.”

Only the East Grand Staircase and Room H-324 remained closed, to block off access to the area where the incident took place. The Architect of the Capitol (AOC) said certified engineers determined it was safe to re-open the building.

The House convened at noon for legislative business, two hours later than previously scheduled due to the incident. The first votes are not scheduled until 2:30 p.m.

At 7 a.m., Capitol Police sent an alert out to staffers saying that the architect was testing the scene after a potential leak of asbestos during ongoing work on the House side of the Capitol.
“The House side of the US Capitol Building is closed until further notice due to an industrial spill. AOC is continuing testing of the area,” Capitol Police wrote in an alert.
The Capitol Police Hazardous Materials Response Team was called on the scene.
“Samples have been collected to determine whether there was potential exposure,” AOC spokeswoman Laura Condeluci said in a statement.
The Capitol remains open for tours. Visitors are asked to use the Capitol Visitors Center entrance.

The few cordoned off areas continue to be closed to block access to the area where the incident occurred and to give “workspace for the contractor to access the area as needed,” according to the architect.

The Capitol has a history of asbestos controversy. In 2012, architects finished a $173 million project to fix safety hazards in the Capitol’s Power Plant utility tunnels, which included asbestos exposure.

The fix was part of a more than decade-long process between the Office of Compliance and the Architect of the Capitol. The OOC had filed a complaint about health safety in 2006 after action had not been taken to fix the exposure — and other problems — after first being discovered in 1999. The architect received criticism for ignoring the problem early on, which led to a number of workers being exposed to deadly levels of asbestos.

The potential release Thursday happened during “ongoing asbestos abatement work” overnight, according to the architect.

—This story was last updated at 1:15 p.m. 
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