By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 30, 2007
A mistake by a Metro contractor led to the shutdown of three Metrorail stations yesterday and prompted an investigation by the FBI and local hazardous-materials crews after the contractor spread commercial pest poison at the wrong time of day, a transit agency spokeswoman said.
At least 60 birds that apparently ingested the poison, mostly sparrows and starlings, were found dead at six Metrorail stations before the transit agency discovered that its contractor had put out the poison and failed to remove the dead birds as part of the cleanup.
By 4:45 p.m., all three stations had reopened. But earlier in the day, as reports of dead birds increased through the afternoon, officials from the FBI's joint terrorism task force and the National Institutes of Health joined in the investigation. The FBI's task force was sent to Branch Avenue to investigate a report of 15 dead birds. The Takoma Station, where 16 birds were found, was not allowed to open until receiving clearance from NIH.
"We believe the birds ingested some sort of poison," Metro spokeswoman Cathy Asato said. "The public was never in danger. We do believe it was a mistake on the part of our contractor."
The contractor, hired by Metro for pest and rodent control, is supposed to work late at night or early in the morning, agency officials said. In this case, the contractor was supposed to be treating the stations for pigeons. The pest abatement "doesn't typically happen on Sunday at 12 noon," said Asato, referring to the time when Metro began receiving reports of dead birds at stations. Most of the birds were found in the Kiss and Ride parking areas outside the stations.
The contractor is supposed to "stick around to clear the area of dead birds" or other animals, she said. "Clearly this did not happen," she said. Asato said that she did not know the contractor's name but that the agency was "following up."
Dead birds were found at the Greenbelt, Anacostia, Naylor Road and Branch Avenue stations on the Green Line and the Rhode Island Avenue-Brentwood and Takoma stations on the Red Line . The Greenbelt Station was closed for about an hour shortly after noon after about 20 dead birds were found. Authorities found pellets of d-CON, a commercial rat poison, at Greenbelt, according to D.C. emergency services spokesman Alan Etter. The Rhode Island Avenue Station was closed for about two hours after four dead birds were found.
The Takoma Station was closed for nearly four hours, from about 12:50 to 4:45 p.m., after 16 dead birds were found outside the station.
Metro ran shuttle buses from the affected stations, but the emergency situations added to already-long delays that normally affect riders on weekends, when track and other maintenance work must be done.
Rain and wind made it difficult for authorities to determine what kind of poison killed the birds at the District stations. The D.C. Health Department was planning to do necropsies on several dead birds found at the Anacostia Station today, Etter said.
Metro Transit Police determined that the agency contractor put out the poison after witnesses reported seeing a man in a black pickup spreading material at some stations.