When anthrax-tainted mail closed offices on Capitol Hill last year, Dr. Bethany Grohs, a member of the Environmental Protection Agency's Environmental Response Team, came to Washington, D.C., to assist in the cleanup effort. Ten federal and local governmental units participated in the task force charged with the cleanup. Dr. Grohs graduated from University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 1998 and has worked for the EPA for two years.
Dr. Bethany Grohs with Sen. Harry Reid
Dr. Grohs said that the first step the cleanup team needed to take was determining what method to use for the sanitization of the buildings. The unprecedented use of weapons-grade anthrax spores as a terrorist tool dictated that the task force would have to rely on sanitization methods not tested in an environment such as an office building.
"There is a fine line between acting quickly and working long term to study a problem in depth. It was important for us to set a balance of acting quickly while gathering as much information as possible," Dr. Grohs said.
Ultimately, the task force decided to use chlorine dioxide to fumigate the Hart Senate Office Building, where a letter filled with anthrax spores was opened in the suite of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle on October 15. The Hart building was closed for 96 days as a result of the contamination.
Dr. Grohs said that one of the challenges the task force faced was incorporating the broad range of expertise possessed by representatives from the various governmental agencies into a cohesive action plan.
"I gained a great deal of respect for how much the people from all the agencies involved had to contribute to the process. The expertise that each person brought to the table was amazing," Dr. Grohs said.
Prior to working on the Capitol Hill cleanup, she worked at the site of the collapsed World Trade Center towers. While she was there, Dr. Grohs spent a day with the Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams that were dispatched to the site.
"The VMAT teams did an amazing job. They were very professional and very focused in providing the best care for the search-and-rescue dogs. Their equipment was top of the line, and I really enjoyed working with them," Dr. Grohs said.
With regard to current concerns about bioterrorism threats, she emphasized the leadership role that veterinarians can take.
"Throughout the response to terrorism, veterinarians have brought a lot to the table when decisions are being made," Dr. Grohs said. "Veterinarians speak the medical language and are skilled at communicating scientific issues but are also very approachable and trusted, which makes them a valuable resource."