Editorial: I Take That Back

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If it seems like you're getting less mail these days, you are. Quite a bit less. The U.S. Postal Service delivered 2.8 billion fewer pieces of mail last fall because of the recession, terrorist attacks and anthrax scare. That's why just about all parties involved have agreed to a negotiated settlement over the current rate case to implement higher rates June 30. Caught between a rock and a hard place (the USPS raising rates even more), it was the logical decision.

Let's hope anthrax is behind us for good, because the irradiation process has flaws. Postal officials need to find better solutions in case the issue reappears. When the media jumped all over postmaster general John E. Potter's comment in October that he couldn't guarantee the mail was safe, I wrote that the USPS should deploy irradiation machines everywhere and make the mail safe at whatever the cost. Obviously, I still agree with making the mail safe, but I'm not thrilled with what the process does to it. You wouldn't be either. Postal officials and others said irradiation discolors the envelope and paper inside and is safe except for film, hi-tech equipment, fruit and some other items. A co-worker who lives near the Hamilton Township, NJ, postal facility brought in a mailer from Harvard Business Review that had been irradiated. The outer envelope and everything inside looked aged 20 years. (Is this what happens to irradiated meat?) The paper was brittle, and an odor permeated the piece.

I bring this up because I received a similar HBR mailer last week and compared the two. The past month has not been kind: The irradiated paper is even more brittle. Even with careful handling, the outer envelope is disintegrating at my fingertips. It's difficult to unfold the inside pages because they tear so easily, and the odor remains. Worse, I noticed the irradiation had sealed shut the business reply envelope. Luckily, the public isn't as concerned with anthrax these days. The only mail being irradiated is mail addressed to the White House, Capitol Hill and other government agencies. People receiving that mail can't be happy with what they're opening, if they're opening anything at all.

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