June 2006 yielded historic rainfall in the greater Washington, D.C. area. The weekend of June 24-25 was especially bad, as flash flooding quickly overwhelmed the sewers and drainage systems throughout the city and surrounding areas. Residential, commercial and government buildings were taking on water at an alarming rate.
One of these buildings was the headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Begal Enterprises, Inc. was contacted at 12:05 a.m. on June 26, and asked to quickly respond to assess the damage already done to the building and come up with a plan of attack to start mitigating the loss and prevent further damage. Within an hour, Begal personnel were making their way downtown, carefully navigating streets that by then were flooded with up to 3 feet of water.
On arrival, Begal personnel walked the building’s entire basement, of which almost 100,000 square feet was affected. Standing water as high as 2 ½ feet was present in some areas, and water was still coming into the structure. The entire basement had been converted into office space, and all of the walls were constructed of metal studs with 1-inch C channels, insulation and sheetrock with vinyl cove base.
Thermal imaging infrared cameras showed water already beginning to wick up the drywall. The cove base glue was so saturated with water that it began to curl off the walls. For the next 10 hours Begal personnel extracted standing water from the structure. As the water level receded, the mud and sediment left behind was shoveled out. These areas were mopped and sanitized.
All furniture and bookcases were blocked. Important documents, vital records and the large, irreplaceable microfiche library that make up the EPA archives were removed to dry areas for further damage assessment. Special containments were built to protect important documents that did not get wet, but would have been damaged by the rising humidity level in the building. By 10 p.m. that night trailer-mounted desiccant dehumidifiers were on site and being set up. Portable LGR dehumidifiers and air scrubbers were placed throughout the affected areas and energized.
Wednesday, June 28, the full-scale restoration of the building began. Two 12-hour shifts were set up, with 40 laborers on each shift, around the clock for the next two and a half weeks. All affected carpeting and cove base was removed, and all affected drywall was marked for removal.
By the end of the project, approximately 450,000 square feet of drywall, carpeting, insulation and VCT flooring was removed from the building, more than 72 tons of debris. A strict protocol for the cleaning and sanitizing of the structure was established. This included HEPA vacuuming, bio-cleaning using specially manufactured tack and alcohol wiping cloths, and treatment of all remaining surfaces with a non-corrosive and highly effective anti-microbial. HEPA-filtered air scrubbers were used throughout the project, and LGR dehumidifiers were left in place to control the humidity within the structure until the HVAC system could be thoroughly cleaned.
Overall, the demolition and cleaning of the 100,000-square-foot affected area took much less time than originally anticipated, in part to working around the clock, including the Fourth of July holiday. This proved to be especially logistically challenging, as Metro DC, Capitol and Federal police, as well as the Secret Service, tried to tow away the desiccant equipment staged on Constitution Avenue before the holiday parade; it also made gaining access to the building extremely difficult. Add to this the struggle to get a large fuel delivery on a national holiday, two blocks from the Washington Monument and the national fireworks display (the company eventually prevailed).
Following the bio-cleaning and sanitizing of the structure, a full battery of air and surface microbial samples were taken by the EPA’s own team of hygienists. The tests confirmed that the project was in fact complete and the structure was safe for the reconstruction to begin and the eventual return of building occupants. 98 percent of the samples “passed” clearance criteria; 90 percent of those samples came back with zero organisms present.
Results of this caliber are unheard of on a project this large and intricate. Although it will took months for the EPA building to get back in working order, Begal Enterprises was able to shorten the overall recovery time and cost of the project tenfold by using the newest and best techniques, state-of-the-art technology, and running double shift/around-the-clock crews to get the building cleaned as quickly and safely as possible. It is rare that a company has an opportunity to perform a full-scale remediation and cleaning project of this magnitude. But to be able to perform it with the speed and accuracy that was achieved was only the first goal obtained.
Considering it is the headquarters of the organization that monitors our industry and decides on appropriate actions and protocols for the work that we perform, the restoration of the Environmental Protection Agency Headquarters, 1350 Constitution Avenue N.W., Washington, DC, was a great success for Begal Enterprises, Inc., and the restoration industry as a whole.