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USPS: Mail is Safe

WASHINGTON — Thomas Day, vice president of engineering at the U.S. Postal Service told a packed audience at the Mailers Technical Advisory Committee meeting yesterday that the biggest misconception about the U.S. Postal Service right now is that the agency is irradiating all mail.

“We are only irradiating federal government mail here in the district,” Day said. “That’s it. No other mail is being irradiated. The fear that you cannot mail around this country right now because it will be irradiated are baseless.”

Day also spent some time explaining that there is no truth to claims in the media that the technology the agency is using to irradiate mail is causing people on Capitol Hill to get sick.

“It’s interesting that in a season of colds and flu, [sickness] is being attributed to the mail,” he said.

Day said, however, that a byproduct to the irradiation process the USPS is using right now is that it emits volatile organic compounds into the air. But, he said these VOCs are not quite as ominous as they may sound.

“Organic compounds are part of our daily lives, and commonly occur in the modern environment we live in,” he said. “There are VOCs around us all the time. If you use nail polish, you are being exposed to VOCs.”

Day said that there are some issues of individual sensitivity when it comes to odors — so some of the claims are not completely baseless. As a result, he said the USPS is using a spray product the USPS learned about from fire departments to kill off VOCs. He also said that the mail itself is not emitting the VOCs; instead it is the bag the mail is irradiated in that is causing them. As a result, Day said the USPS is working with its irradiation contractors to make sure they open the bags the mail is in as soon as it is irradiated so that the mail does not stew in the gases.

Day said the USPS is still actively looking at irradiation, and learning about the different processes and their side effects.

While there are some harmful side effects to things like live animals and pharmaceuticals. “irradiation remains the only scientifically-proven way to deal with biohazard contamination of the mail.”

Day also said that if the agency was to go forward with more irradiation plans, “we will let you [and the public] know about it…Anything we do to expand the use of irradiation, we will notify the public. You cannot do irradiation in secret.”

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