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Editorial: Irradiating the Mail

Will consumers turn to remote shopping more this holiday season because they're traveling less?

Last week's rosy numbers from several retailers and catalogers seemed to support that notion, as the Commerce Department said retail sales jumped 7.1 percent in October, the biggest increase for any month on record. However, the anthrax threat may cause a few consumers and businesses to shy away from using the U.S. Postal Service as a delivery option.

The sagging economy may be a bigger factor, some experts warn, affecting both mail volume and the number of temporary workers the USPS usually hires this season. The postal service has added 20,000 to 40,000 temporary workers in years past, but it hasn't said what it needs this year. Other big carriers aren't doing any better: FedEx has no plans for any extra help, while United Parcel Service expects to add a smaller-than-usual number after Thanksgiving.

Expect anthrax-related mail delays to worsen while postal officials contemplate how to sanitize the mail. Electron beam technology is already being used to treat some of Washington's mail, and chlorine dioxide gas is also being considered. While the electron beam won't damage credit cards, videotapes and compact discs, scientists warn that it may be strong enough to kill seeds, discolor paper, destroy photographic film and turn fruits and vegetables mushy. The Direct Marketing Association downplayed the dangers last week, saying, “We have heard concerns … that sensitive items, such as film and photographs, are being damaged in the mail. This is classic overreaction at this point.”

Let's hope that stays the case.

Red Cross Does the Right Thing

Officials at the American Red Cross finally woke up last week, changing their stance on how to distribute the $543 million donated since Sept. 11. “Americans have spoken loudly and clearly,” CEO Harold Decker said as the organization also agreed to participate in a database being created to help those affected by the disaster. Did he get that right.

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