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Alarm Prompts Evacuation of Capitol Power Plant

The Capitol Power Plant heats and cools the Capitol complex. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Capitol Power plant was evacuated Monday morning due to an audible alarm in the boiler room, though police said there was no fire.  

The Capitol Police command center informed CQ Roll Call that an alarm prompted the evacuation, though there was no fire in the room and everything appeared to be alright. The officer did not have more information and didn't say what prompted the alarm. A spokesperson for the Architect of the Capitol wrote in an email that the evacuation was due to an alarm that went off, but did not immediately respond to an inquiry as to what set off the alarm.  

Hill Makes Pitch for Protected Bike Lanes

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The commute could get a little easier for cyclists who trek between Union Station and Capitol Hill, if Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers and local transportation officials can agree.  

Support for a protected bike lane on Louisiana Avenue has grown steadily in recent months, with the Congressional Bike Caucus and Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen backing the plan. On Wednesday, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., added her voice to the chorus. "This project has broad support from the community and Members of Congress, and it would provide a vital benefit to the many residents, visitors, and workers that traverse the area by bicycle," she wrote in a letter to Ayers and District of Columbia Department of Transportation Director Leif Dormsjo.  

Cannon Asbestos Scare Raises Safety Questions

A portion of the Cannon basement is closed for construction. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

An asbestos scare in the Cannon House Office Building over the weekend has raised questions about workplace safety, as construction and renovation of the century-old structure continues.  

Cannon was closed after work on Oct. 30 and for most of Oct. 31 as engineers and industrial hygienists investigated a potential asbestos leak during the ongoing Cannon Renewal Project. Though preliminary air samples tested negative for the carcinogen, the Architect of the Capitol's website indicated late on Oct. 31 that "sample results were well below the regulatory limit for general space occupancy." In other words, some traces of the chemical were found in the air, which was tested by an "an independent, accredited lab" according to the AOC, but those levels were not considered harmful. A spokeswoman for the AOC did not return multiple requests for comment about whether any changes are being implemented following the asbestos scare.  

Cannon Evacuated for Potential Asbestos Leak

Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers discusses the Cannon House Office Building renewal project. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Cannon House Office Building was evacuated Friday night for a potential asbestos leak, and the building is closed until further notice.  

House staff received an emergency alert shortly after 7:30 p.m. to evacuate Cannon for a potential asbestos leak. A spokesperson for the Architect of the Capitol confirmed the potential release of asbestos occurred during construction as part of the Cannon Renewal Project.  

GAO Questions Capitol Power Plant Transition

(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A Government Accountability Office report released Thursday calls into question the ongoing project to transition the Capitol power plant from relying partially on coal to completely on natural gas.  

The watchdog agency suggested the Architect of the Capitol did not follow leading capital-planning practices in the project, which result in an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars. AOC Stephen T. Ayers disagreed with the report's claims, arguing that transitioning the power plant is the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly option. In 2013, the Architect of the Capitol secured approval  from the federal and D.C. governments to move forward with "cogeneration" construction, which would allow the plant to simultaneously produce electricity and heat from natural gas. The century-old power plant provides steam and chilled water to heat and cool 23 facilities on Capitol Hill, including the Capitol and House and Senate office buildings. The power plant currently purchases fuel and electricity to run the boilers and chillers.  

Material in House Chamber Tests Negative for Asbestos

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The material found in the House chamber that prompted its closing Monday has tested negative for asbestos.  

"The [Architect of the Capitol] has completed the investigation of the material found behind the existing wall fabric in the House Chamber. All tests were negative," House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving said in notice sent late Monday afternoon. Irving said the chamber would reopen to visitors Tuesday. The Capitol Visitor Center stopped issuing House gallery passes after the chamber closed Monday afternoon.  

House Chamber Closed as AOC Investigates Unknown Material (Updated)

Testing material found in the chamber could take up to eight hours. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 12:35 p.m. | The House chamber was closed Monday morning after Architect of the Capitol workers discovered a potentially hazardous substance during ongoing restoration work.  

Behind wall fabric, workers found an unknown material that is being tested for asbestos. The chamber was closed "in an abundance of caution," House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving said in a brief memo. Testing can take up to eight hours. The material was not airborne, according to a Capitol official. The discovery is not unusual for the type of renovation work or the age of the chamber, which was first used in December 1857.  

Congressional Couches Test Positive for Toxic Retardant

Pallone said he was not surprised some congressional couches tested positive for toxic flame-retardant chemicals. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

As Congress considers an overhaul of toxic chemical regulations, a new analysis has brought the issue close to home — perhaps a little too close for comfort.  

The Environmental Defense Fund recently analyzed six couches from each of the congressional office buildings and found three contained a toxic flame-retardant chemical known as TDCPP. The chemical can be found on the California Environmental Protection Agency's list of carcinogens. The analysis could cause some concern around the Capitol — particularly among members of the "Couch Caucus ," who sleep in their offices. Advocates working to overhaul chemical safety regulations hope it pushes lawmakers to act.  

Capitol Food Workers Bring Income Inequality to Congress' Front Step

Workers called for higher wages and a union. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

For the third time in the past eight months, food-service workers at the Capitol have gone on strike to push for higher wages and union representation, a rare example of a national issue — income inequality — hitting close to home for Congress.  

Forty Capitol workers, the highest number so far, joined roughly 650 federal contract workers from across the District of Columbia Wednesday who went on strike and rallied in Upper Senate Park. The previous Capitol protests called on President Barack Obama to take executive action to raise contract-worker wages, which would not have affected workers in the legislative branch. But on Wednesday, workers called on Congress to raise the minimum wage, and presidential candidate and Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., announced at the rally they would introduce legislation to more than double the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.  

AOC Details July 4th Concert Security Protocols

(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

As lawmakers rush to check items off their legislative to-do list before the Independence Day recess, Capitol administrators are busy preparing for the annual July 4th Concert on the West Lawn.  

"A Capitol Fourth," the live concert broadcast on PBS, is set for Saturday, July 4, at 8 p.m., and the Architect of the Capitol announced Monday that the concert will result in a familiar series of street closures. From midnight on July 2 until 4 a.m. July 5,  streets surrounding the West Front will be closed. Closures include First Street between Independence Ave. SW and Constitution Ave. NW; Pennsylvania Ave. NW between First Street NW and Third Street NW; and Maryland Avenue between First Street SW and Third Street SW.