USPS Works to Minimize Irradiation Damage

The U.S. Postal Service is working with the mailing industry to ensure that mail sanitization does not damage sensitive items in the mail.

The USPS is considering several types of technologies to sanitize the mail, all of which would have to be able to kill bacteria and viruses both inside and on envelopes. For example, the agency is looking at irradiation and electron-beam technology as well as chlorine dioxide gas.

The USPS has awarded contracts to two companies specializing in irradiation and X-ray technology: a $40 million contract to Titan Corp. and its subsidiary, SureBeam Technologies, San Diego, for eight electron-beam systems and an option to buy a dozen more; and a $2.4 million contract to Ion Beam Applications, Chicago, to provide electron-beam and X-ray technology for sterilization services for three months.

The postal service will use Ion Beam's service in New Jersey. The USPS also has a separate contract with Titan to irradiate the mail at the company's Lima, OH, facility.

Because this is the first time these technologies are being used on the mail, the USPS said sanitization technology is being tested on a wide range of film products, digital and magnetic storage devices, laboratory samples, food and plant products and smart cards to ensure that all business mail can be processed safely.

The Direct Marketing Association said this week it is working closely with the USPS to ensure that technologies to safeguard the mail are tested thoroughly so that they will not damage any goods sent through the mail.

Tom Day, vice president of engineering for the USPS, said at a Mailers Technical Advisory Committee meeting at postal headquarters this month that he was interested in chlorine dioxide gas because it is “easier to implement, significantly cheaper and quicker to develop” than other measures. He said this may be used in the Hart Senate Building in Washington and in contaminated USPS facilities in Brentwood, MD, and Trenton, NJ.

“I have authorized a prototype to be built and test mail to see if we could use [chlorine dioxide gas] for this purpose,” Day said.

The equipment is expected to cost about $3 billion.

Irradiation of the mail began last week at Titan's Lima facility. The company is sterilizing mail from Capitol Hill and Washington. Postal officials were not specific about the kinds of mail being sanitized there.

The USPS also said that hundreds of thousands of children's letters sent from New York to Santa Claus would be irradiated against anthrax. The letters would be sent to the Ion Beam contractor in New Jersey.

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