Odor Settles in Massachusetts Avenue Post Office

By Emma Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 26, 2009

Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet -- nor, apparently, unpleasant smells -- can keep postal workers from their duties at the District's Massachusetts Avenue post office.

At the office Saturday, an unidentified, impossible to ignore odor settled in the lobby where customers waited in line to mail and pick up packages. "Help!" said an employee, who asked that her name not be published out of fear of getting into trouble. "This has been going on for weeks."

Kelvin Nwosu, general manager of Capitol City Brewing Company, a restaurant on the floor above the post office, said the smell is the result of a leaking pipe somewhere in the bowels of the building, known for its round-the-block lines come annual tax deadline time in April.

Three weeks ago, Capitol City received a report of leakage in the post office lobby, where several ceiling panels bear brown stains. Contractors hired by the restaurant opened walls to try to pinpoint the leak, unleashing the stink.

"Everything has kind of really embedded really strongly in the concrete," said Nwosu, who has worked at Capitol City since October. "We're working on it."

A Postal Service supervisor said she was not authorized to comment, and a spokesman did not immediately return a phone call.

Nwosu declined to guess what the leakage was. Customers, on the other hand, did not hesitate. "It smells like sewage," said Ann Posa, 48, who was visiting from Pennsylvania.

Most of those waiting in line Saturday shrugged it off as a passing inconvenience.

"What are you gonna do?" Andre Taylor, 50, an Amtrak employee who works next door at Union Station, asked as he renewed his post office box.

Nwosu said the search for the leak has been complicated by the fact that the building's innards are largely inaccessible without digging through walls and floors. Contractors planned to break through the restaurant's kitchen floor Sunday night. But the restaurant will remain open unless the work becomes disruptive or unsanitary, Nwosu said.

"Our intent," Nwosu said, "is not to keep this going any longer than we have to."

Downstairs at the post office, in answer to employees' pleas for relief, odors might dissipate as soon as next week, when contractors return to seal up the walls.

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